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Thursday, December 07 2023
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Pride, arrogance and its influence on children

Children playing
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There is a thin borderline between functioning with the attitudes of pride and arrogance. In fact, both the concepts play hide and seek with common people. One trespasses the borderline from one to the other more frequently than what one wants to. This may be the experience of grownups too.

Pride indeed is a base for self-respect and does not mar the charm of any personality, even for those in higher position of power. One feels proud of one’s own capabilities which include the creation of new ideas, development of skills and competencies, cultivation of interests, selection of principles, regulation of emotions, selection of environment and also other expressions of contents of one’s own personality. A strong feeling of self-respect emerging out of one’s pride generally puts a person into a position of confidence and associated willingness to attempt even very difficult tasks. Equally valid it is that such self-respect reflects a cluster of areas of various shades of an individual that most often borders on possible success which naturally lead on to effective functioning.

There is a need for making children feel proud of themselves because it will promote their self-respect. Any time when a child achieves something and it is congratulated or its success being spoken about, it ignites its pride which promotes its willingness to try again. Some look at pride as a negative element. This is mostly because they associate pride with arrogance. One has the right to feel proud of oneself. Once, in a Parent Effectiveness Training programme, a participant brought up this issue. Her argument was that we need to be humble and not proud. Humility is a value which one promotes in oneself who has authentic pride about the qualities and skills and attributes that one has. Hence, I explained to her that they are not contradictory because true pride contributes to humility. While pride is a status, a presence in an individual, humility is a value that is inculcated. Unless one is proud of one’s own accomplishments and recognises the others’ right to be proud of their accomplishments, one cannot be truly humble.

Arrogance is different. A status of pride transgresses into arrogance when one starts thinking about the factors of pride as something that cannot be achieved by anybody else and even forgets the chances of many others contributing to the achievements that form the reasons for the pride. This trespass borders on a faith that no one else will be able to do as one has performed. It is here that there is a condemnation or contempt for others which create arrogance in a person. Unless there is this condemnation or contempt in one’s attitude, pride does not become arrogance.

School children when they behave or speak in a particular way, they are categorised as arrogant children. I was once in a famous school in Ooty for conducting a learning and development intervention for all the teachers of the school with the theme Teacher as the Classroom Leader. I was in the principal’s room a few minutes before the session started. A young boy of sixteen walked into the room with his father. Evidently the father was summoned. He introduced his father, and thereafter, the principal described to the father an offence that was done by the ward. The father was silent. However, the young boy spoke. He said that he did not do what was described and would never think of doing such a thing. The principal got wild, raised his voice and asked ‘Do you know to whom you are speaking?’ and the boy coolly answered ‘Yes, I know, sir’, rather firmly and clearly. This infuriated the principal who shouted again ‘Don’t think too much about you to speak like this?’ The boy answered coolly again ‘I don’t, I know about my capabilities.’ The principal this time looked at the father who was standing rather meekly ‘Look at your boy, how he dares speak like this, that too in the principal’s room, again in your presence.’ The father was silent who was later asked to pay a fine for remission of the offence done by the student and left the room.

After the departure of both, the principal turned to me and asked me ‘What do we do with such characters. No punishment will change them’. I answered him with an apology stating that I did not find anything wrong in the child’s statement. After all, he had only justified himself on the two occasions that he had spoken. We had a short discussion on pride and arrogance to follow an analysis of the boy’s behaviour. At the end of it all, I thought, that the principal understood the difference between pride and arrogance.

Usually, arrogance has two compatriots, vengeance and vindictiveness. When a subordinate or a junior makes a lapse, an error or a mistake, undoubtedly, they may have to be disapproved, sometimes even reprimanded, some other times even punished. However, the sad plight is when one goes into an evaluation of the disappointing behaviour, one sits in judgement of it and considers the person not acceptable. At such times, people have a tendency to forget all the other good things of this person. Also, one thinks that the doer of the mistake has done purposely or one may even attribute reasons for the behaviour, viewing the whole behaviour from a higher pedestal of being superior. Here, even if it is true, it is not only a sense of superiority that governs, it is also a contempt leading to a condemnation of the other that happens. It is here that the arrogance raises its head. Very often, what is associated is a vindictive behaviour emerging out of a strong sense of arrogance of being superior not merely in position but intrinsically in person.

There is also this great danger of going one step further and taking this vindictiveness to vengeance. There are large numbers of occasions when children suffer from the arrogance of parents and teachers, even other elders also, when they commit a lapse or an error or a mistake. The thought-lines of the adult could merge from the disappointment that the child did not do what it was expected to do or what it was told to do or what it was taught to do. However, the parent or teacher does not recognise this disappointment which is replaced by anger which automatically leads to unintellectual, indeed too emotional, responses. The most common thought would be that despite being told, in most cases, more than once, how the child dares to do it and attribute motives to the behaviour. What follows is normally an unjustifiable response of being arrogant. It could result in vengeance or vindictiveness.

The best that can be done to children is to make them proud of their qualities and attributes, including competencies. The efficacy of children is varied for obvious reasons of their personal makeup and growth. So, it is unimaginative to expect children to behave in a particular manner that the parents or teachers desire. Repeated performances under guidance allow children to repeat such behaviour which becomes a routine action for them. All the same, there could still be lapses or errors or mistakes. Also, it is important to do even the simplest of corrections when others are not present so that the children would not be disappointed and feel let down in front of others. In fact, any praise in front of others, even at a time when the child has failed in the main task, on some aspects of success could make the child feel some pride even in the midst of a failure.

A primary school teacher in a training session delineated a true story that happened in her class. One student drew a very beautiful picture in black and white on a paper of the size of one from a note book, a little crumbled, and showed the teacher who congratulated him for his artistry. However, when the paper was given back to the boy who drew it, another boy stood up and claimed the paper. He said that the paper was his and a part of his notebook. So it should be given to him. The teacher asked the first boy whether the report was true to which the first boy meekly agreed. So, the picture was given to the owner of the paper. It is then one of an uninvolved third student stood up and said that the first boy had not taken it from the second boy’s books, it was lying under the table on the floor and he used it. The teacher got the matter confirmed and the paper changed hands to the student who drew it. However, the teacher did not praise the third boy for his sense of justice. In fact, this was a clear case where the teacher could complement the third boy and make him feel proud of himself for standing for justice. May be, the teacher could go one step further and make an example of a sense of justice by speaking about the third boy’s courage to stand up and speak for justice. The teacher said that she did not do such a thing because she was afraid that the third boy could become arrogant.

Praise where it is due need not make anybody arrogant. Some consequential thinking that no one else can do what I have achieved alone can lead to possible arrogance. When children are very young, they need to be developed by giving them opportunities to perform age-appropriate tasks and praise them in front of everybody when they complete such tasks. This will give them true pride which will promote confidence. Even when they fail in some areas and succeed in a few others, the latter may be given greater importance so that they will be motivated to attempt again.

Undoubtedly, parents and teachers at schools have a great role to play in developing the resourceful behaviours of children. It will be worthwhile to create situations where children would succeed in the tasks allotted to them so that they could be praised authentically which would create pride in them for their performances. Also, it is important to make the children understand the difference between pride and arrogance, preferably taking examples from their own ways of behaviour. All that are done to develop confidence in children by building their self-esteem through genuine praise may not lead them to become arrogant.

Image by Lukas

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Prof Sunney Tharappan

Prof. Sunney Tharappan is Director of College for Leadership and HRD, Mangaluru. He trains and writes and lives in Mangaluru.

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