[ SELF ] CONFIDENCE OR ARROGANCE?
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Definition: [n] freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities; "his assurance in his superiority did not make him popular"; "after that failure he lost his confidence"; "she spoke with authority"
Synonyms: assurance, authority, confidence, self-assurance, sureness, certainty
Webster's 1913 Dictionary
A CALL TO SELF-EXAMINATION
SERIES: THE IMPORTANCE OF MODELS
By Doug Goins
“Testing” is a normal part of our lives, and something that we often take for granted. We are subjected to all sorts of tests throughout our lifetime: academic, medical, even professional. For instance, if you want to drive a vehicle, you must take a written test, a driving test, and an eye exam to get your driver’s license. If you want to be a lawyer you have to pass the Bar Exam. Just this week I had a test taken to check the cholesterol level in my blood.
There are also personal tests that none of us can avoid in life; things like illness, broken dreams, peer pressure, failures in our life, suffering, financial pressures, and even moral temptation. All of those things are tests that confront us, whether we like it or not.
In 2 Corinthians 13:5-10, we are called to voluntarily test ourselves; to search our own hearts. We are to examine our lives to see if, in Paul’s words, “we are in the faith.” You may recall how Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, invited us to take a spiritual inventory of our lives: “…a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (Corinthians 11:28). The six verses we are considering today also call us to self-examination.
I have organized this short paragraph around five important questions. In applying Paul’s challenge, I am certain that each one of us will find ourselves somewhere in the text. The five questions for you to consider as we work through these verses are: 1) Am I solid in the faith?; 2) Is my lifestyle in obedience to Jesus Christ?; 3) Am I committed to following God’s word?; 4) Am I prayerfully optimistic about the people around me?; and, 5) Am I getting easier to live with in my exercise of spiritual authority or leadership?
Let’s begin with the first question and work our way through.
Am I solid in the faith?
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5, 6)
If you look at verse 5 very carefully, the word “yourselves” appears three different times. Paul puts it there three times for emphasis. This is not merely an emphasis in repetition, but even in the original language those three words are emphasized because they are out of the normal order of sentence structure. The way the sentence reads, literally, is: “You yourselves test, you yourselves examine, you yourselves recognize” to see if Jesus Christ is in you. The emphasis is on each one of us, as individuals, examining ourselves to see whether Jesus, in reality, lives inside of us. Look at how Eugene Peterson paraphrases these verses:
Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular check-ups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it. I hope the test won’t show that we have failed.
(2 Corinthians 13:5, 6)
Like the Corinthians, we know that there are sinful attitudes or sinful behavior patterns in our lives. Previously, in our study of chapter 12 (Discovery Paper #4656), Paul confronted them on sinful patterns of behavior and sinful attitudes in their lives. He knew about strife at work among them, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, and disturbances (12:20). And then, at the end of verse 21, he lists sins of personal morality—impurity, immorality, and sensuality. The presence of any of these things at work in our lives should cause us to ask ourselves: “Am I a true Christian?”
And that is the literal meaning of the phrase at the end of verses 5 and 6 where Paul says, “Indeed you fail the test”… “We ourselves do not fail the test.” The meaning of that little phrase “fail the test” means “counterfeit”—to be proven inauthentic. So we must ask ourselves, “Am I truly born again? Am I a member of God’s spiritual family?” Or, in terms of this counterfeit issue, “Am I just putting up a front?” “Has there been no spiritual transformation in my life?”
The very fact that the apostle Paul asks this question indicates this is what marks true Christianity—Jesus Christ has come to live within us. Paul doesn’t ask how faithful we are in church attendance, how well we offer grace at the meal table, nor does he ask us how much Bible knowledge we have. Rather, he asks the most fundamental of questions, “Are we standing in the circle of faith in which Jesus Christ is the absolute center?”
There are three terms in verse 5 that help guide us in conducting this self-examination of our faith. The first is the word “test.” It means an objective evaluation. The apostle Paul, in Romans 10:9, summarizes this objective reality. Paul writes,
...that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
We can ask ourselves these questions: “Do I have a personal relationship with Christ? Have I asked him to save me from my sin? Have I really surrendered to him as Lord of my life? Have I embraced the reality of his death and resurrection? And the promise that in dying to sin, am I spiritually saved from my old life? Am I truly born again to a new life?
The second word in the verse is the word “examine”—looking for specific proof. If you pass that first test, that objective evaluation, then there is no sense of pessimism, or doubt about the outcome. The Greek word used here carries with it the idea of examining for the purpose of approving. It’s not about failing. So, as Christians, we examine ourselves with hopeful optimism about God’s redemptive activity in our lives. And, if we are believers, there doesn’t have to be any fear of self-examination.
The scriptures promise us that we will be truly different because Jesus Christ lives inside of us. There are a number of examples in the scriptures that we could find in terms of the difference that Jesus makes, and the apostle John lists several in his first letter. First, we love other Christians more and more. John writes in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.”
Secondly, our thoughts, our habits, and our goals will be focused on pleasing Jesus more and more, living like Jesus, and honoring Jesus with how we live our lives. It’s what the Bible refers to as “practicing righteousness.” John says, “If you know that [Jesus] is righteous, then you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).
Finally, our ability to resist worldly influences and the sinful temptations Paul listed at the end of chapter 12 (selfishness, sexual immorality, jealousy, anger, competitiveness, etc.) will increase. From the Amplified text, we read: “For whatever is born of God is victorious over the world; and this is the victory that conquers the world, even our faith. Who is it that is victorious over [that conquers] the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4, 5 – The Amplified Bible). Saving faith makes a difference in responding to temptation in our lives.
The third word of self-examination is the word “recognize,” which speaks of inner discernment, self-awareness. The apostle Paul writes about that in Romans 8:16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” There will be an internal witness of the Holy Spirit, an inner confirmation that we are, in fact, believers, resulting in a growing sense of peace, confidence, and stability in life. That is amplified again in 1 John:
He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony within himself… He who possesses the Son has that [eternal] life; he who does not possess the Son of God does not have that life. I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have life, yes, eternal life” (1 John 5:10a, 12, 13 – The Amplified Bible)
We can live increasingly with confidence, with a sense of who we are in Jesus Christ. Let’s look again at 2 Corinthians 13:6 where Paul writes, “But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.” Notice that Paul includes himself in this process, this discipline of spiritual self-examination. He turns the finger that he has been pointing at them, “You examine yourselves, you test yourselves,” back at himself because the scriptures encourage all of us to self-examination. There is very little said about us checking out other people’s spirituality. Every one of us ought to occasionally ask ourselves: “Are we consistently living out our faith? Does our behavior exemplify what we say we believe? Do our lives really reflect that Christ lives within us?”
That leads us to the next question.
Is my lifestyle in obedience to Jesus Christ?
Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we should appear unapproved. (2 Corinthians 13:7)
Paul makes it clear in this verse that he doesn’t want the Corinthians to fail this test just to prove his concerns, which he voiced at the end of chapter 12, were accurate. Nor does he want them to live in obedience to Jesus Christ just so that he can brag about them. Paul doesn’t mind being criticized for their sakes, so long as they live in obedience to Jesus Christ. He is not concerned about his own reputation because, as he says, God knows his heart. But, as his spiritual children growing up in faith, he was concerned about their Christian character.
As a parent of four kids, I really identify with Paul’s concerns. I want my children straight with the Lord as they move into young adulthood, but not for my sake or just to make me look good. I want them resisting evil. I want them pursuing righteousness. I want them to know that they are fully accepted and approved by God for their own sake so they can live comfortably, confidently, and out of obedience.
Am I committed to following God’s word?
The answer to the third question is found in verse 8.
For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.
Paul is not saying that it’s impossible to attack the truth or to hinder the word of God. But if the Corinthians will examine themselves, in the words of verse 7 “don’t do what is wrong, but do what is right” (paraphrased), if they will repent of these sinful attitudes and these sinful behaviors, and if they will pursue righteousness, it would all be according to the word of God. Paul knows the word of God is unstoppable and that it’s going to be accomplished. So, why try to ignore or resist what God has said?
The apostle Peter encourages us as well to leave our old lives behind and to fall more deeply in love with the word of God and with the truth of God. Peter writes, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:1-3). That is salvation: tasting God’s kindness.
Am I prayerfully optimistic about those around me?
Verse 9 is about prayer. It’s about optimism and how we look at the people around us.
For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.
Paul is encouraging these believers with the assurance of his personal prayers for them. He prayed with confidence and optimism for their spiritual maturity. Here, Paul is expressing confidence in the fact that these people can change, and because he knows who God is, and that God is at work in them, they will be changed. He says that confidently, even in the face of constant criticism, carping, challenging, as well as rejection. Paul never gives up his commitment to these people, but keeps pursuing them in love. And he tells us what allows him to do so in 2 Corinthians, chapters 11 and 12, when he asks these rhetorical questions: “Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” (11:11)… “And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?” (12:15). We have seen before that it was God’s love, agape love, at work in him that kept Paul hanging in there with these difficult people. Notice that it’s not Paul’s natural affection or fondness, but the supernatural work of God in him. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that this kind of love, agape love, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…” (13, 7, 8a, emphasis mine). But, it is only God’s love that can make us optimistic, that can make us hopeful, and that can keep us praying for people with whom we struggle. I have learned over the years that it’s really difficult to be resentful toward someone or to be pessimistic about them if I am sincerely praying for them on a regular basis.
Am I getting easier to live with in my exercise of spiritual authority?
Paul addresses the final question in verse 10:
For this reason I am writing these things while absent, in order that when present I may not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not tearing down.
Paul is re-emphasizing his apostolic authority, and in doing so, is summarizing one last time his intention for writing this long letter to them. But let’s consider how we can apply what Paul says about spiritual authority more broadly because most of us have some degree of responsibility in different types of relationships, whether it is in our families, in the classroom, or in the community, at home, or perhaps in church ministry, or even in the job setting.
While talking with our interns a couple weeks ago about this issue of oversight, of leadership, a couple of them admitted that the biggest area they struggle with is exercising authority with their siblings, younger brothers and sisters, who they are suppose to care for.
Eugene Peterson’s treatment of verse 10 emphasizes this broader context quite well:
I’m writing this to you now so that when I come I won’t have to say another word on the subject. The authority the Master gave me is for putting people together, not taking them apart. I want to get on with it, and not to have to spend time on reprimands.
Paul doesn’t believe that severity or reprimands or taking people apart should be the primary approach to relationships or ministry. The result to that kind of approach is force, and the response is fear. Submission, when hammered into people’s heads, ends up being rigid and oppressive. Paul’s model for leadership, as we have seen it lived out in these letters, is not only marked by an absence of pride or arrogance, but also a lack of insecurity. As a result, he is not an intimidator. You never see Paul throwing his weight around, exercising authority just to show authority.
One attractive biblical model for leadership is that of shepherding (I’m referring to the image is one of leading sheep, not driving cattle). In a true shepherd, there is no compulsion toward arrogance, pride, or fearful insecurity, nor is there any coercion among the sheep. When any of us in spiritual leadership exercise our authority abusively, then sadly, Jesus’ lordship gets eclipsed, wiped out. And the individuals that we have responsibility for in the body of Christ end up suffering. I can’t tell you how many folks have difficulty accepting Jesus’ authority in their lives because of coercive, abusive, human authorities they have, at some point in their lives, been subjected to. But in the exercise of spiritual authority, Paul always preferred gentleness to sharpness. He valued loving over fighting whenever possible.
Eternal consequences of self-examination
There are at least three benefits to self-examination. First, it will reveal truth to us if we take it seriously. Jesus even said that truth will ultimately make us free (John 8:32). Secondly, it saves us from a hyper-critical attitude toward people around us. We will be more focused on the log in our own eye, than on the splinter in someone else’s eye. And, finally, it removes a lot of the sinful debris that can clog up our lives; things that block, that stagnate the fresh flow of spiritual energy. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me… from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
Consider again verse 5 that we read earlier from The Message: “If you fail the test, do something about it.” If you do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, if you do not know him as your Lord and Savior, if you do not have an assurance of eternal life, there is something that you can do about it. In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, Paul makes this appeal:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for He says,
“At the acceptable time I listened to you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you”;
behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”…. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2)
God has provided the Savior and he is saying, “here is my gift of salvation for you.” There is no reason for any of us to be estranged from God because in Christ all the barriers between us have been demolished. All we need to do is step across, by faith, into God’s arms. At the cross, God the Father made Jesus the Son become sin on our behalf. Jesus took our sin on himself so that we could be forgiven, cleansed of our sin, and be reconciled to God. We can be declared righteous, holy, and acceptable before God, but we must first accept Jesus’ gift—his sacrificial death on our behalf.
The Bible says that Jesus Christ can indwell you. You can stand securely at the center of the circle of faith; but, you’ve got to be receptive of that gift of grace. You could believe it today. You could experience that saving faith, now.
If you know you are in the faith, if you know that Christ is in you, and if you have passed the test, don’t be afraid to examine yourself and to ask these hard questions: Is my lifestyle in obedience to Jesus? Is there evidence in my life of growth and change? Do the people around me know that I belong to him? Am I committed to following God’s word? Is my love for the scriptures growing deeper? Do I love God’s truth more and more? Am I prayerfully optimistic about the people around me? Are my attitudes changing toward people I struggle with? Do I spend more time praying for them than I do grumbling about them? Am I getting easier to live with in my exercise of spiritual authority? Do I tend to “lord it over” people who I am responsible for, or do I understand servant authority? Am I working with people for their faith?—alongside of, rather than on top of?
I encourage you to spend some time answering these questions. Resist the temptation to rationalize, and don’t give in to blaming your circumstances, your husband or wife, parents, your childhood, or you co-workers and friends. None of those things can keep you from growing spiritually. It’s true that they do affect our lives, but those are issues we have to face and work through. None of us have to be stuck blaming circumstances or people for our lack of maturity or for our own willingness to live with besetting sins in our lives. God knows our hearts. He can work in us right where we are, even amidst the struggles and confusion. But we must first be honest about the sinful patterns in our lives and our sinful attitudes.
In closing, I commend you to King David and his prayer in Psalm 51. Notice his attitude of openness; his broken, repentant heart before the Lord. This is a prayer that comes from a man that Scripture says was a man “after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was an honest man before the Lord.
Hide Thy face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Thy presence,
And do not take away Thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation,
And sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)
Again, I encourage you to wrestle with these questions honestly because they do have eternal consequences.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (“NASB”). © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, 1996 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. Also where indicated, Scripture quotations are taken from THE AMPLIFIED BIBLE. Copyright © 1965 by the Zondervan Corporation. All rights reserved.
Letters Readers Respond About Arrogance, Confidence, Brilliance, Humility, and Stupidity
from PHYSICS TODAY, July 2003
Hats off to J. Murray Gibson for his Opinion piece, "Arrogance- A Dangerous Weapon of the Physics Trade?" (PHYSICS TODAY, February 2003, page 54). Arrogance is indeed a virus that infects the physics community, and I've seen its insidious effects on the career choices of generations of students, particularly women and other underrepresented groups.
But one thing about the piece puzzles me. Although Gibson's main point is that arrogance creates problems, his article repeatedly makes positive claims about arrogance: It is "a prized commodity," "something to be nurtured," or even "a tool ... [for] cutting through the misconceptions that surround the natural world."
To what effects of arrogance do these quotes refer? The only potentially useful ones I can imagine involve Machiavellian schemes to promote one's own agenda by simply being nasty. I hope we're not a profession that promotes that kind of behavior.
On the other hand, perhaps Gibson confuses arrogance with self-confidence. If you want to cut through those misconceptions, a high degree of self-confidence can be very important. But self-confidence need not entail arrogance. The greatest physicists I've known have been able to combine strong self-confidence with a concern for others that is the very opposite of arrogance.
Richard J. Noer (firstname.lastname@example.org) Carleton College Northfield, Minnesota
In his Opinion piece, J. Murray Gibson persuasively argues for moderating scientific competence with modesty. Physics is not just about pursuing one's curiosity with enthusiasm and asserting the superiority of its. method over others. Physics also has a role that is best Letters and opinions are encouraged and should be sent to Letters, PHYSICS TODAY, American Center for Physics, One Physics Ellipse; College Park, MD 20740-3842 or by e-mail to email@example.com (using your surname as "Subject"): Please include your affiliation, mailing address, and daytime phone number. We reserve the right to edit submissions: achieved through pursuing thoughtful conduct. And Gibson's perspectives can be expanded to look at "arrogance" of the physical sciences in general, rather than just physics.
Physical scientists have come to believe that their scientific method will help them understand and quantify everything they need to know about the material world. They believe that, with that knowledge, they could control and subdue that world. Such confidence is doubleedged. On the positive side, it nurtures curiosity, traditionally the main inspiration for scientific inquiry. On the negative side, it fosters an attitude of conquest that is true arrogance. Especially troublesome at present is that the attitude of conquest is nurtured more by commercialism than by inspiration. The universality of Isaac Newton's and Albert Einstein's findings is truly impressive. Yet, those findings are limited; they are not applicable to the remarkable natural phenomenon, the life-to-death cycle. Living things possess remarkable abilities to sense their surroundings, to determine what parts of their environment are acceptable for sustenance, and to adapt their bodies and chemical behavior to changes in the world around them. Higher-order living things simultaneously possess opposites such as love and hate, compassion and violence, rationality and irrationality. Unlike the behavior of inanimate objects, that of living things cannot be predicted with equations; the elements of any such equation are capable of making judgments, whether conscious or unconscious.
Most people in our modern technological society, led on by the cockiness of the physical sciences, think that they can subdue Earth as they please. But nature's biosphere, the nutritional cycle, and the hydrological cycle are all intertwined in a way that cannot be predicted or controlled. Although practitioners of biotechnology and genetic engineering succeed in manipulating chemical molecules, they have no way of rationalizing how species and genera as a whole will respond to human manipulations. Viruses and microbes that quickly develop resistance to new drugs or vaccines and pests the develop resistance to pesticides demonstrate the lack of knowledge. Physical scientists cannot predict and control at will because living things possess abstract attributes that lie beyond their science's foundational concepts. True, a connection exists between the physical body an those abstract attributes, but no framework yet exists to make sense of the connection between the palpable and the abstract.
Just as profound as the knowledge of the physical world is the knowledge related to the functioning of Earth-the environment, ecosystems, and the behavioral patterns of living things. Those areas of inquiry require descriptive, qualitative, and intuitive thinking. Such qualitative knowledge is as deep and valuable as the quantitative knowledge of physical properties and laws.
Gibson's seemingly simple statement that "we easily forget that we are all too human" is, in fact, profound. Humans are as capable of great leaps of imagination, creativity, beauty, and compassion as they are of indescribable violence and destruction. Concerns about global warming, destruction of habitats, and pollution of air and water, as well as the desire of world commerce to control natural resources for profit, indicate that the world of the living transcends the scope of the physical sciences. Many in the natural sciences think that we are at a threshold of either adapting our living to the constraints of nature or wreaking incredible damage to Earth as we destroy ourselves. The arrogance that Gibson highlights, rather than being an irritation in the form of having to tolerate some one's attitude, has more profound implications. Much will depend on whether we as physical scientists opt for the path of arrogance, or moderate it with a recognition that physics is only one component of the totality of human knowledge.
T. N. Narasimhai (firstname.lastname@example.org University of California, Berkeley.
As an undergraduate who is just receiving his physics degree, I have never seen such naked arrogance as that in my physics program. J. Murray Gibson's discussion of his undergraduate training was very enlightening: I now see that the trial I went through is the rule rather than an unjust aberration. I had a teacher who was tyrannical, and I found the totalitarian classroom, nearly intolerable. I learned that, although physicists are very smart people, they just don't get the idea of "human being." Perhaps the mathematical models on this subject are still not adequate for physicists' understanding. Gibson writes, "For the real physicist, this trial by fire is not quite enough to extinguish interest in the field." Ah, yes, an analogy that conjures the tempering of steel-you see, just a hardening process. You need lots of heat, and no emotions. Who needs emotions? They're not objective!
Those physicists may be "real," their interests having survived, but they will be emotional cripples, looking to cripple others.
A different analogy may serve as a better model for the physicists trying to acquire a feel for this "human" stuff. The forester will tend seedlings in the nursery and provide the right environment for growth. When they are ready, they will be transferred to the ground where they may thrive. The forester cultivates them and does not force the issue. You will not find the forester hitting the seedlings with a hammer when they first break through the soil.
Perhaps the physicist might try to see potential in the undergraduate who can be cultivated. Of course, that variety of teaching is an art. I have found that there are two jobs one can get without experience. One is parent; the other is college teacher.
Most physics professors have never cracked a book on learning theory and don't understand different learning styles. Gibson recasts arrogance as a virtue, but I think it is an archaic and unproductive teaching posture in dire need of updating. It is probably psychologically damaging and apt to arouse American students' intrinsic questioning of authority.
If physics professors regarded undergraduates as sentient humans who get blown out of the field when confronted by poor treatment, then physicists would see the danger of arrogance and educational facilities would not need hubris monitors stationed outside the classroom next to the fire extinguisher.
James Kellinger (email@example.com) Rutgers University Cliffside Park, New Jersey
I couldn't disagree more with J. Murray Gibson's Opinion piece on arrogance. First, I believe that we physicists can be arrogant because we believe we are smarter than people in other professions and not because we are objective. In fact, our belief in our supposed objectivity may be one of our major failings.
Second, the attitude at other laboratories can be far different from that at Bell Labs, as described by Gibson. We at the David Sarnoff RCA Laboratories were blessed by working with Albert Rose, who has been called the father of photoconductivity. Far from being arrogant, he was a brilliant but humble person. His humility permeated the labs; we all looked up to Al as a model of how to behave.
My conclusion is that arrogance in our profession is a one-edged sword aimed at ourselves, not a twoedged sword as Gibson has proposed, and arrogance should always be avoided. Let's use Albert Einstein as our model of behavior, and not brilliant but arrogant physicists. Leonard R. Weisberg (Zenw5678@aol.com) Alexandria, Virginia
Congratulations to J. Murray 1lGlbson for his much needed comments on the arrogance of some physicists. Let me give a specific example of such arrogance, heard during a lunch conversation at Bell Labs in the good old days. A very senior administrator of research commented about the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Peter Debye: "He could not have been that good a scientist or he would have become a physicist."
Kurt Nassau (firstname.lastname@example.org) Lebanon, New Jersey
To have, in the same issue, articles about the joy of physics and the privilege of being a physicist, on the one hand, and even a hint of the glorification of arrogance in physicists, on the other hand, represents a cruel irony. Victor Weisskopf would not be happy with that juxtaposition! There is nothing positive about arrogance. For every putdown artist among the greats of physics, such as Wolfgang Pauli, there were warm and humane greats, such as Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein.
Arrogance is not a sine qua non for great accomplishment. In my own career, I have had wonderful experiences with great scientists who were kind, mentoring, and supportive, as well as unpleasant, and even shattering experiences with others, ruthless prima donnas whose behaviors have been very destructive. There is a close connection between arrogant wunderkinder and the incidents of fraud that have recently plagued physics research. Many physicists have bemoaned the reduction in funding and prestige in our field during the past decade or so. For a premier physics magazine to print an article extolling the value of arrogance does not constitute good public relations in the battle to maintain the health of
our science. Jeffrey Marque Wmarque@gte.net) San Mateo, California
Physics is not as arrogant a trade as J. Murray Gibson claims. My dictionary calls arrogance "unwarranted pride," and I warrant that our trade is somewhat justified in being proud of its accomplishments. In Drexel University's course on science and religion, taught by a trinity of one campus minister, one physicist-philosopher, and one humble physicist, I emphasize what I call the principle of scientific humility- that integral to science is our express lack of knowledge. That lack is clear in physical measurements, each one of which has an attached uncertainty, colloquially called an "error." In precision work, two errors are often given for a measurement: one covering experimental errors and one covering systematic errors. We ask students to find other areas of human endeavor in which uncertainties are similarly openly displayed.
Leonard Finegold (L@drexel.edu) Drexel University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Although I am impressed with J. Murray Gibson's courage to abjure humility and lecture us on the evils of misplaced arrogance, I hold that there is a little more, and very much less, to be said on that topic. Even as we physicists must be arrogant to box with God as we do in our exploration of His creation, we have to be humble in considering possible errors in our conclusions. Our answers must be correct; our colleagues are-properly-unforgiving of error.
Contrary to Gibson, I don't find that the "me teacher, you student" arrangement that goes back at least 5000 years to Ur of the Chaldees is insufferably arrogant. Nor is it arrogant to hold that a particular formal mentoring program that Gibson espouses, one that extends beyond our present traditions, might do more harm than good.
Then Gibson confuses political correctness with humility and considers that our arrogance contributes to our "severe underrepresentation of women and minorities" and adds "Since I do not believe that white males have an intrinsically higher ability in physics than other groups have, I think we might have a problem in our profession." Years ago, at a small conference held to address the barriers women meet in science, a prominent astrophysicist suggested that we should regard those barriers as dismantled only when 50% of scientists were women. Ruth Bader Ginsburg then asked if, at that time, we should expect that only 3% of scientists be Jewish! The varying representations of different races, genders, and ethnic groups in science, arts, sports, commerce, and other fields surely follow from causes outside of physics or any perceived arrogance of physicists.
Overall, one must not equate arrogance with disagreement with Gibson-or even with me.
Robert K. A (email@example.com Yale Univ. New Haven, Connecticut
I use my own arrogance to criticize J. Murray Gibson's Opinion on arrogance. Gibson misses one important point: Never ascribe to arrogance what is more properly described a stupidity.
Gibson quotes otherwise "ratio and intelligent scientists" as says "Just show me a well qualified X1 [woman or minority] and I will hi; him or her on the spot-I have no, bias." He calls such a statement F classical arrogance. I use my arrogance to claim that anyone who such a thing cannot be a good scientist. A good scientist does not dismiss a question by claiming to know answer; he answers the question asking another question. Science progresses when people find the right questions.
The right question with regard groups underrepresented in phys is, Why are there no qualified XXXes available? I started asking questions about women in physics after being annoyed by Steven Goldberg's artic "Numbers Don't Lie: Men Do Be Than Women," in the 5 July 198 New York Times. The author no that men do better than women the mathematics portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test and jumped to conclusions about a possible physiological basis.
I recalled an arrogant old saying, "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure," and I started asking relevant questions. Why are so very many of the successful American women scientists and mathematicians born outside the US? Why is it hard to find icon-born women in nuclear and particle physics of comparable stature to the enormous number of successful American women in those fie who were born outside the US? I noted Maria Goeppert-Mayer, C. S. Wu, Gertrude Scharfff Goldhaber, Fay Ajzenberg-Selove, Noemie Koller, Sulamith Goldhaber, Julie Lee-Franzini, Sau Lan Wu, Inga Karliner, and so on. There are exceptions: Nina Byers and Glennys Farar are American-born. I may have missed some others, but the as try is still striking. I thought that had finally found a top American born woman particle theorist in Helen Quinn, until I learned that she was Australian. Why is the ratio of women to men in physics much higher in France, Italy, and Poland than in the US? Do European women do better in primarily Roman Catholic countries than in Protestant ones? Is the greater success of European women because they had Marie Curie as a role model, or because the Virgin Mary is so important in Roman Catholic culture? Why is there apparently such a large number of women mathematicians and engineers among the Soviet Jewish immigrants to Israel and the US? Why was one of those the only woman with a tenure position in a large leading American university mathematics department?Perhaps one must look back much earlier than university or graduate school to understand the problem. Are subtle prejudices and sociological factors in American culture crucial at high-school and perhaps even at elementary school levels? These are the questions to ask; they will lead us to serious thinking and perhaps to finding some answers. It is a copout and a deflection to say, "Just show me a well qualified XXX and I will hire him or her on the spot." Bias is not the problem.Some of my women physicist friends who were born outside the US confirm that the problem begins quite early. One who immigrated from Europe to America when she was in high school said that she was considered peculiar in the US, because "girls were not supposed to be smart." Another said that the best road to success for a woman physicist would lie to start her education in Europe and move to the US at a later point in her career. Girls who wanted to be physicists had a much easier time in Europe until they hit a point on the academic ladder where there was real discrimination. At that point, they could do much better in the US. The moral: Be arrogant. But ask the right questions. If you are sure you know the right answer, you are probably stupid, not arrogant.
Harry J. Lipkin (firstname.lastname@example.org) Weizmann Institute of Science Rehovot, Israel
Gibson replies: I appreciate the healthy response to my Opinion piece. The writers added many valuable insights, and several echo my sentiments. My original piece was intended as a condemnation of the behavior that most of us would identify as arrogant. Most of the disagreement is due to semantics concerning the meaning of the word arrogance. I came not to praise arrogance, but to bury it.
Admittedly, the word arrogance is technically inaccurate to describe the positive behavior that I defended. My poetic license may have confused some readers. The dictionary definition of arrogance suggests overbearing behavior based on inappropriate views. "High degree of self-confidence"-Richard Noer's phrase or even assertive may well be more accurate to describe the positive side of arrogance. Because arrogance and self-confidence seem intimately related even though one is bad and the other is good, I chose to blur the distinction.
Physicists are, as Leonard Finegold observes, more open than other professions to admitting uncertainties. We physicists have much to be proud of, but for our own sake, we need to admit our weaknesses.I disagree with Robert Adair's comment that the varying representation of different races and genders in physics follows entirely from causes outside the field. If that were true, wouldn't all professions experience the same degree of representation?
Harry Lipkin makes the valid argument that stupidity may be mistaken for arrogance. He correctly notes that gender representation is slightly better in some other countries and that we can learn from that. We Americans are known around the world for our hubris, and this may explain some of the differences.
The combination of brilliance and humility that Leonard Weisberg mentions is the ideal paradigm for a physicist; I intended in my piece not to argue against that combination of traits but instead to discuss why it is uncommon.
T. N. Narasimhan makes a profound point when he observes that man's arrogance toward nature is dangerous. I also like James Kellinger's apt metaphor for the misguided teacher as a forester waiting for seedlings to spring up from the soil so that he can then hit them with a hammer.
Fortunately, very few writers disagree with my concern about the downside of arrogance, and most object only to my apology for it. I stand corrected on the technical usage of the word. However, knowing that the boundary between bad arrogance and good self-confidence is blurred helps us fulfill our aim to stamp out one and not the other. Frankly, I anticipated more radical disagreement than is reflected in this set of letters; instead, almost all the writers view arrogance as a real problem for the profession. I hope that view is representative of the community. J. Murray Gibson Argonne National Laboratory Argonne, Illinois
Patience, Self-confidence, Humility and Passion
In a book every investor should read "The Super Analysts" by Andrew Leeming, interviews with two money managers, David Fisher and Tim Jensen, very extremely insightful. (David Fisher is Chairman of Capital International and Tim Jensen is portfolio manager at Oaktree).
"While patience, self-confidence, humility, and passion are all essential ingredients for successful investing, the key elements of Fisher's philosophy and approach are:
Tim Jensen's approach to investing will appeal to those investors who are fundamentally driven and value-orientated. While his principles are relatively straightforward, they nevertheless require patience, diligence, and hard work to implement successfully. The key principles of Jensen's approach are:
Self Confidence Is Essential To Success
like confidence. When you truly and justifiably confident, it radiates from you
like sunlight, and attracts success to you like magnet. It's so important to
believe in yourself. Believe that you can do it, under any circumstances.
Because if you believe you can, then you really will. That belief just keeps you
searching for the answers, and then pretty soon you can get it. Confidence is
more than an attitude. It comes from knowing exactly where you are going,
exactly how you are going to get there. It comes from acting with integrity and
confidence. It comes from a strong sense of purpose. It comes from a strong
commitment to take responsibility, rather than just let life happen. One way to
develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of
successful experiences behind you.
Confidence is compassionate and understanding. It is not arrogant. Arrogance is born out of fear and insecurity. Confidence comes from strength and integrity.
Confidence is not just believing you can do it. Confidence is knowing you can do it. Knowing that you are capable of accomplishing anything you want, and live your life with confidence.
Anything can be achieved through focused, determined effort, commitment and self-confidence. If your life is not what you want it to be, you have the power to change it, and you must make the changes on a moment by moment basis. Live your priorities. Live with your goals and your plan of action. Live each moment with your priorities in mind. Act with your own purpose, and you will have the life you want.
Chopra., Ph.D., Consultant
March 23, 2003
Arrogance, and Why it Will be Back
You almost have to feel sorry for the post-millennial masters of the universe, those quintessential giants of business and technology. For months, they haven't known what to do with themselves. An era of recession and scandal is no time to strut, so famously self-satisfied divas have been on an enforced holiday from preening overconfidence (at least in public). But the good news, for them, is that this is no paradigm shift. Arrogance will be back.
As entrepreneurs are fond of declaring (without being asked) unreasonable self-confidence is an often-crucial ingredient to success and innovation — in business or in almost anything else, for that matter. Sure, the trait fell out of favor at the height of the Enron backlash. (At one point, observers acted as if they'd found a smoking gun in the fact that the firm called itself "the world's greatest company." The scoundrels!) But you don't have to be major-league asshole — much less an apologist for Skilling and company — to recognize that many of our greatest innovators have been, and remain, insufferably arrogant people.
"Larger-than-life leaders" are classic narcissists in the Freudian sense, says anthropologist and psychoanalyst Michael Maccoby, whose book The Productive Narcissist will be published by Broadway Books next year. They are charmers and risk-takers, big personalities with big visions. From business history, he points to Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison, Ford. His more recent examples are just as familiar: Welch, Jobs, Gates. Writing in the Harvard Business Review in early 2000, he noted that such heroes were so popular that many of us had forgotten the "inevitable cons" of this archetype — the "feelings of grandiosity" that success creates, pushing some visionaries to lose hold of reality, then crash and burn. He says dryly: "People are more aware of those downsides now."
No kidding. Set aside the inevitable hindsight-driven backlash and consider the surprising success of Jim Collins' recent book, Good To Great. A key element in the leadership style at the successful companies he studied is, of all things, humility. It's a line of thinking that serves as a kind of antidote to the near-comical hubris of the departed dot-com era, when earth-shattering visionaries were a dime a dozen. (Or, on Sand Hill Road, $100 million a dozen.) But even Collins says it would be big mistake to read his book as a case for meekness, since a "ferocious willfullness" is still critical to such leaders.
At the moment, though, any business leader professing wild-eyed confidence might simply sound like a kook. So expect the New Arrogance to remain understated for a while. How long that lasts will depend on how quickly a fresh round of success stories emerges. A new invention, a scientific breakthrough, a suddenly hot sector — these are the things that energize narcissists. Meanwhile, the egocentrism gene now lying dormant is sure to spring back to life. Consider Craig Venter, the departed CEO of Celera Genomics, who recently revealed his DNA was the primary sample used to decode the human genome. Arrogant? He's heard that "so many times, I've gotten over it," he announced.
In other words, egocentrism springs eternal. As one longtime Silicon Valley observer puts it, there's really no way to replace the potentially combustible mix of motivators - changing the world, getting rich, amassing power - that drives entrepreneurs. That's especially so in the technology field, he adds, where the prevailing attitude remains: "It's perfectly fine to be an arrogant jerk, as long as it's in the service of more than getting rich."
Ultimately, though, self-infatuation thrives or falters for reasons that have as much to do with our attitudes toward the leadership class as with the hardwiring of leaders themselves: You can't have a pied piper without a steady supply of followers willing to let someone else think for them.
Collins hopes that this time people will at least adopt a more thoughtful view of the "great CEO model" and not simply fall in line behind whatever visionary is blowing his own horn from a hundred magazine covers. But, he acknowledges, "in a complex world, people are going to look for simple answers." So if (that is, when) arrogance makes a comeback, those of us in the peanut gallery shouldn't just blame the arrogant jerks, but rather ourselves. When success stories bloom, and we hear fresh tales of entrepreneurs who won big buy defying the odds, it'll be easy to remember how important it is for innovators to have the courage of their convictions — and to forget about the delusions-of-grandeur problem. Then again, those masters of the universe could have told you they were never to blame.
A similar version of this story appeared in the July 2002, issue of Wired.