I’ve Never Heard Such Arrogance

arroganceJust typing that word in the title makes me physically uncomfortable. All the energy in my body goes right up to the surface, like my skin is lifting up to be on the lookout. And that leaves a hollowness in the center of me. All from invoking the word “arrogant.”

I’ve been wanting to write this post and explore these feelings for a couple of weeks now, ever since Seth Godin sent this little ponderable to my inbox:

In search of arrogance

Do you care enough to believe in things that seem unreasonable?

Do you believe in…

your people,

your project,

your endeavor so deeply that others find your belief arrogant now and then?

If your standard is to never be called arrogant, you’ve probably walked away from your calling.

Gut punch. That word was used to hurt me twenty something years ago and it burrowed under my skin and festered there ever since, making me continually question my belief in myself.

It was Thanksgiving, back when I was in grad school, so I already had one degree in English and I was working on a second. The whole family gathered at my grandparents’ house for lunch. My cousin and I stood in the hallway outside the kitchen. We were teasing each other and I said something along the lines of, “There ain’t a thang in the world we can do fer y’now!” in the heaviest country accent I could muster.

Behind me, I heard my grandmother scoff. Then she grabbed my upper arm and interjected: “AIN’T? All that fancy college education and you don’t know any better than to say ain’t?” She was smiling when she said it.

I answered her, my arm still in a pinch, and I was smiling too: “I think of it as poetic license–I’ve proven that I am thoroughly familiar with English and I certainly know how to speak it properly, so now I’m free to choose words for their effect when I want to.”

Her face changed instantly into a furious snarl. “I have NEVER heard such arrogance!” She shoved my arm away, turned on her heel and stomped off.

And every bit of my tender heart wanted to say, “You started it.”  But I didn’t. My cousin and I exchanged shocked looks with lifted eyebrows then wandered off to another part of the house.

That should have been that, but it wasn’t.

anchorman-ron-burgundySo if I speak up for myself, I’m arrogant? If I use words from my new life back in my old one, I’m arrogant? My grandmother was furious in that moment that I had sassed her. I stayed quietly furious for twenty five years because she had insulted me.

The problem with a poisonous fury like this one is that the poison stayed inside my own head. I’ve been living my life with the fear of being called arrogant. I can’t even claim the things that I HAVE achieved because I’m afraid I’ll be called arrogant. I’m working on it but it’s a process (Year 15 and we’re making some progress…).

Earlier this week, I was offered an opportunity to do a speaking engagement. It tooks some chutzpah to accept it and I’m really excited about it. Then my imposter syndrome flared up. Who am I to talk to a crowd of strangers? Are they sure I’m qualified? This must be a mistake.

I had to send a few snippets for my bio. I wrote:

  • I handle internal communications for a healthcare system.
  • I serve as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association, the nation’s oldest alumnae association.
  • My blog, Baddest Mother Ever, is part of the BlogHer publishing network and I was selected as a 2014 Voice of the Year.

Before I could hit Send, I stared at the list and thought, “Huh. Maybe I am qualified to go talk to some people about some things.”

I stared at the little list until I felt CONFIDENT instead of arrogant.

Like Seth Godin says, you have to be so confident, so audacious in the pursuit of your dream, that some might call you arrogant. That’s on them, not you.

My therapist and I talked about this old story and she pointed me toward the idea of external validation and internal validation. Back when we met, she reminded me that I put most of my energy towards external validation–finding someone to tell me I was OK. The longer I live and the more I work on being comfortable in my life, my focus moves towards internal validation–I can tell me that I am OK.

On that Thanksgiving day, I was a young adult. Just getting my own legs under me. Growing confident in the work I was doing–teaching writing and studying linguistics. When I defended my poetic license, my grandmother could have said, “Well ain’t YOU fancy!” and acknowledged it as banter. She could have said, “That’s true. I hadn’t thought of it that way,” and met me as an equal. Instead, she reacted to my temerity by cutting my legs out from under me.

It seems that once you integrate all the wisdom and experience of growing up, you can let insults and misunderstandings bounce off without letting someone else’s idea of you become your idea of you. I believe this school of thought can be summed up in, “I’m rubber, you’re glue…what you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” That will be $150.

So I hereby release the word “arrogant” back out into the universe. It holds no power over me.

Good riddance, because I got things to DO. Big things. Bold things. Scary things. Growing things.

In other words, I ain’t got time for narrythang what wants to hold me back.

Do you have a word that rankles and festers and burrows? (Those are some damn fine words right there, huh? I know my synonym shit.) Share your word in the comments!


31 thoughts on “I’ve Never Heard Such Arrogance

  1. Genie Smith Bernstein

    I became arrogant about writing after I wearied of agents & authors droning on about the slim-to-none chance of a novel being published, as likely as getting struck by lightning, dependent on whether an agent had bad coffee or a fight with her husband. I stopped going to conferences & worked at the craft, arrogantly believing if I told a good story & wrote it well, it would sell. And it did.

      1. Genie Smith Bernstein

        Why thanks, Marie, writers love readers. My stories comprise the quarterly Connections feature in Georgia Connector Magazine http://www.georgiaconnector.com/ (the last page of each issue). And I have a romance novel “Act on the Heart” being released by Black Opal Books this Spring.

    1. Tammy St.Germain

      I agree100% Allison. “Selfish” really grinds my gears and in my case it became a fine line that was crossed many times. As in “Selfish” aka ” Doormat” Ranging from being the neighborhood Free Babysitter to getting calls in the middle of the night to be a D.D. for a bunch of drunken adults (and therapist, banker etc). I couldn’t say No. Took me too long to realize that the very ones calling me selfish were trying to justify their own selfishness. It took some major rearranging of life to get this and you summed it up great. Its a process !

  2. Janice M GARRETT

    My mother, your Grandmother, is 96 years old and still biting the hands that help her and her broken arm off her potty chair. She AIN’T gonna change, but you can. After I spent several years in therapy, she got confused and very frustrated when she pulled a string that was no longer attached to me. Remember, my dear daughter, it is not arrogance, if you can back it up. Ashley, you are AMAZING. Go for it. If you need a babysitter, call me.

  3. Helen Anne

    Ever wondered what in your grandmother’s story would make her respond that way? She is part of the reason you have two degrees and know what you know. I think there’s a story in there somewhere. And, by the way, arrogant is the last word I would use to describe you … but that’s external validation.

    1. WordPress.com Support

      I appreciate your external validation–I agree with it and will therefore accept it into my head! I know the reasons behind my grandmother’s response. I wish she had had the kind of life that gave her space to consider those reasons herself.

  4. Tracy Hunter

    Apologize!!!!! I will take responsibility for my actions, but I HATE that I continue to feel the need to apologize when someone around me is unhappy/dissatisfied due to no fault of my own. I’m working on that and find it hard to stop.
    I also don’t like intimidate.
    And, while different from the kind of words that have strings attached, but still words I just don’t like are orientate and incentivize.

      1. Marie

        Actually, Ashley, “orientate” and “incentivize” are both words, at least to the Brits; they both appear in the OED.

        As for the incident with your grandmother, I’ve had similar things happen to me. Part of it, at least in my case, may have to do with the reluctance of older generations to accept that I am no longer a child. When I was in high school, I didn’t not have the lovely porcelain complexion that I have now (smile!) but by the time I was in my thirties, that was no longer a problem, yet one time I was telling my mother about a friend who had complimented me on my complexion, and her response was, “I guess he didn’t look at you very closely, did he?” Talk about being gobsmacked, I was. That was a turning point for me. It was the beginning of my respect for myself (yes, it took me a long time to get there). I guess my word would be “speechless,” which is something I no longer am. You get in my face and I’ll get in yours. I love reading your posts; they always make me think, even the ones that give me the giggles.

      2. WordPress.com Support

        That is HORRIBLE! (The story you related, not the knee-jerk reliance on the OED…)

        ((I have slipped over the line into arrogance when I question the OED))

  5. Kris Pereira

    “but”. It was my mother’s word that cut, burned and hurt me as surely as if she had ripped my heart out with her bare hands. She would dole out a compliment to me. I would feel the excitement start to spread through me like a puppy who was being offered a juicy pork chop.It was followed immediately with a “but” ……. It made me feel like the same puppy having the pork chop ripped out of their mouth and then being kicked. There was a distance between my mother and I throughout her life. It had it’s hold on me until she was dying. She asked me what she had done to me that had been so horrible that it caused this life long rift between us. I told her. She responded by saying that was a horrible thing for me to say to her because she would carry it with her until her death. I told her I had carried it for 41 years. She cried softly and said “I’m sorry” There was no “but” on this occasion. I learned the power of the words “I’m sorry” that day. i can relate to Marie. My mother had a cruelness to her that only my father and I saw and felt. My sister saw it but it was rarely directed to her.My sister and I were not close until our adult years. She admitted to me that she was well aware of mother’s acid tongue and felt bad for me and daddy. She never spoke up for fear it would be re-directed to her. Words are powerful, even three letter words.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      Oh, Kris. I’m glad you eventually got a but-less “I’m sorry” but it sure was a long time coming.

  6. Gay Garrett

    Listen to your Mother she knows things. Listen to me, I am a step behind her at your speaking engagement and both of us are clapping like crazy. We can’t do without you and your on the mark observations on life and love. Go ahead!

  7. Lynn

    My first time home after starting college, I was excitedly describing something I had learned or experienced and inadvertently used the phrase “you have to understand”. I was on my way to putting the incident I was describing in context, that is, was about to say “you have to understand the circumstances” or something similar. An old family friend I had respected angrily interrupted with “I don’t have to understand anything!”

    I’ve never been able to use (or hear) that phrase since. And sadly, never been too keen on excitedly describing my experiences either. A single innocent comment, said to someone younger and tender in their innocence, can change the course of a lifetime. I am so very careful choosing my words and phrases when talking to my younger (read under 25 yr old) friends.

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      That is heartbreaking! This thread really is making me realize that I’m the adult know and must choose my words with kindness.

  8. Alice Brown

    Wow – the power of words! That saying “Sticks n Stones” is so NOT true! As the good book says, “The power of life and death is in the tongue”! I agree, Ashley, we need to think and speak kindness and encouragement… everyone is starving for such words!

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