Arrogance is the display of overconfidence and excessive pride by an individual or group. As opposed to someone who is self-reflective, open minded and humble, those who are arrogant rarely accept the advice or contributions of others because they feel that their ideas, plans and knowledge are superior to any outside input. Some are arrogant enough to believe they always know what’s best for others, but are blind to their own arrogance. We’ve all had moments in our lives where we’ve considered ourselves superior, whether in intelligence or in ability. Those who hold this to be the case at all times make themselves un-teachable. In what aspects of your own life are you arrogant, believing yourself to be more capable and successful than you really are? Does it irritate you when someone else comes up with an idea or plan that is better than yours? Do you ever reflect on how others see you, especially when you are in a leadership position? Do you recognize these aspects in yourself and seek humility? Do you see through the arrogance of others?
Arrogance (i.e. “hubris”) in Greek Mythology, is exemplified by the popular story of Daedalus and Icarus. In the myth, after Daedalus builds a labyrinth to capture the Minotaur for King Minos, the King then imprisons Daedalus and his son, Icarus, to the labyrinth and the fate of being eaten alive by the Minotaur. However, unbeknownst to the King, the father and son find their way through the maze to the shore of the island. Daedalus uses seagull feathers and wax to craft wings that will allow him and his son to fly away to safety. After building the wings and giving Icarus a warning not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax holding the feathers, they took flight from the beach. With great excitement and overconfidence, Icarus disobeyed his father’s warning and flew higher and higher. By the time Icarus noticed the feathers falling off his wings, it was too late and he plunged to his watery death. Certainly, this myth is a cautionary tale, but one need not look to ancient mythology for arrogance and hubris.
According to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Rear Admiral, Margaret Klein, Hubris Syndrome is a theory that might help to explain the “self-control dysfunction” experienced by senior military officers during the past few years. Psychologists, according to Klein, define Hubris Syndrome as “a personality disorder acquired through the long-term possession of power with minimal constraint, and particularly associated with overwhelming success.” Klein went on to say, “One of the unique symptoms of this Hubris Syndrome is the belief by these individuals that they are only answerable to history for their actions.” Klein, who is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s senior advisor for military professionalism, explained that the DOD is attempting to discover “the best programs in each of the military service branches to determine which specific practices or techniques can be adapted for use by other organizations then adopted, scaled and systematically shared.” It is Klein’s belief that utilizing the input of psychologists, sociologists, business leaders, and neuroscientists during this evaluation of current leadership ethics training will make ”strides toward restoring and maintaining trust and transparency internally and with the American public.”
In addition to military leaders, political leaders are occasionally branded as suffering from hubris. A New York Times opinion by Ackerman claims that President Obama’s handling of the ISIS terrorist group is akin to “imperial hubris” because he has overstepped his presidential powers. According to Ackerman, the problem is that Obama neglected the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that mandates congressional approval of the military action within 60 days from the beginning hostilities, or he must pull out our forces within 30 days. Ackerman emphasizes that Obama is using the Congressional consent garnered by the Bush administration shortly after the 9/11 attacks to justify the acts of war against these terrorists. Certainly, presidents over the last twenty years have pushed the envelope in the context of their powers as President, but, regardless of the righteousness of the cause and resulting military action, congressional consent for beginning or expanding hostilities is a part of the checks and balances that guide our leaders. These safeguards were purposely structured in the Constitution to ensure that power is distributed equitably among the legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government. Hopefully, however, arrogance and widespread hubris will not be a problem for the last check and balance in our system: the American people.