It only took one press conference to rouse me.
I wrote about the subject of arrogance and Presidents prior to the election––and I’ll repeat some of it here––but it still has my attention. Is arrogance an easy or difficult label to apply to President Obama and is that solely a function of one’s political leaning? Or is confidence propelling his assured pace through the waters of turmoil. If one is being truthful, I think it’s an easy assessment and for me, it isn’t dictated by politics.
More to the point, we have big doings going on in this country and the world so the question of Presidential arrogance is germane in my humble view. Does a leader’s attitude of superiority matter at all? Can President Obama drown in his own arrogance––and by extension, we the people––or is he simply swimming in confidence?
Let me begin as I’m a bit of an expert. You see, I know arrogance. As a former Marine fighter pilot, I used to think I was the chosen one. Fearless and indestructible, I never imagined making a mistake. Even when guys around me were crashing and dying due to their own blunders, I never thought it would happen to me.
After transitioning to the business world, this mindset continued as I worked with the best and the brightest––always feeling right at home with my “peers.”
I was special. Clearly.
As events unfolded through the years, as mistakes compounded in both my professional and personal life, I learned that I wasn’t so special. Not even close.
Therefore, I have to ask. Regarding President Obama, is arrogance a character trait that requires scrutiny? Is he arrogant and is that necessarily a bad thing for the Commander-in-Chief? As well, does he believe himself smart enough and knowledgeable enough to solve the problems of America?
Three definitions are in order. Pride from the secular perspective is a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements. Arrogance is unwarranted pride, having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities. Finally, Catholic Catechetical pride is one of the seven capital sins. This pride is undue self–esteem or self–love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God.
For the sake of my discussion, the Catholic definition of pride aligns nicely with arrogance.
So let’s wander through the garden of pride, arrogance and knowledge (sound familiar?) and see what we can discover.
I’m going to start with me. I’m an educated man. I’ve been able to work in a number of fields that require specific knowledge such as science, aviation, business and the arts and since I enjoy reading, I’ve read my fair share.
But it doesn’t take a poll to conclude that I know a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the world’s depository of knowledge. And I would wager that Barack Obama’s knowledge isn’t exponentially different from mine. With this in mind, to anybody that considers themselves a know-it-all, I respectfully suggest they rethink it. The enormity of facts and information related to this planet and beyond is simply Brobdingnagian.
My point? Mr. Obama and I know, relatively, nothing.
So where am I going with this? What is this knowledge, pride and arrogance examination all about?
For a moment, I need to be personal and talk about God.
This morning, I went out for a cappuccino. A grey layer hovered but Starbucks and the adjacent bakery were packed. People were talking, perhaps even communing with one another. For whatever reason, I wondered if these people were going to attend church or temple or participant in some faith tradition this weekend. I wasn’t being judgmental, I was only curious.
For some, religious worship is for special occasions. For others, the Bible, Torah or Koran is all they need. (For our sake here, I won’t address other faiths.) A handful would say they’re busy or antagonistic or lazy so worship will have to wait. For others, church and God are irrelevant. A few would voice neither faith nor disbelief and a small number would clearly state there’s no God. As might be expected, there are other reasons as well for a lack of attendance but I would surmise that most of the reasons were the result of some sort of conviction.
As to the question of God’s existence and whether he should be worshipped, people have firmly held beliefs and opinions based on their knowledge. This is key. But is their knowledge limited? And is their conviction warranted? Second, does pride and arrogance get in the way of expanding their knowledge or cementing their conviction? I won’t attempt an answer for those people I encountered this morning. However, here’s what I know about me.
I used to think I was a pretty smart guy and had a lot figured out. I reasoned about God in my own limited way and was comfortable with my conclusions. My obvious pride in rendering a final judgment on God, however, was unwarranted as my efforts in this regard were slack and moronic. Worse, my arrogance prevented me from seeing any of this.
So, I skipped through life as a hotshot atheist––the opposite of Plato’s wise man. (The Greek philosopher talked about being incredibly wise because he was aware of how much he didn’t know.)
As I see it, up until the time I became a Catholic, my entire life had been an engine powered by hubris and not humility. To put it succinctly, my credo had been that I was special, i.e., better and entitled––of course, the corollary of that is you’re not. My hubris, my excessive pride, my arrogance had been nothing more than a form of self-idolatry.
And so it kept me from God.
It made me unwise.
And it generated behavior and consequences that weren’t positive or in my self-interest.
So, with this President (as all Presidents), the stakes are much higher––our collective well-being. The common good.
As to whether President Obama is arrogant, I don’t think there’s any question. He is. He also thinks he’s smart and knowledgeable enough to execute his duties. As for his relationship with God, it’s not for me to say. Yet some of his actions are certainly in violation of God’s teaching. And is it possible that he’s so blinded by his own “aura” that he makes poor decisions? Are America’s interests somehow jeopardized by his haughty attitude, behavior and leadership?
Yes, they are.
Well enough. I pray for his humility––the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility thus avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer. And from prayer, good flows.
America will be the better for it.