I’ve struggled with low self-esteem for all my life. I’ve always second-guessed my abilities and and wrestled with self-deprecating thoughts.
At the same time I have been frequently accused of being proud, arrogant, bigoted, and all the rest. On a few occasions I’ve had people ask “You think you’re better than me?” Or some similarly phrased question. Being a rather shy and insecure person, nothing frustrates me more than when people flippantly assume I struggle with the opposite problem.
As I’ve put it to my friends, “I don’t think I’m better than anybody except those idiots who think that I think that I’m better than them.” The moment they accuse me of it, it immediately becomes true.
So I’ve become hostile towards accusations of arrogance or pretentiousness in any context. As towards artists, I love how I once heard someone put it: “Pretentious is a word that non-artists use to describe people who have done something with their lives.”
Transition: I had never read Pride and Prejudice. I tried to read it in my spare time during university. Of course, “Spare time during university.” Laughable, right? So that didn’t quite work out. I got part way through but had to stop. Fast forward to now and I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a community theatre production of a Pride and Prejudice stage adaptation. So I picked up the book again to do some digging, paying special attention to my character – Mr. Darcy.
As I read through the book, I began to find some uncanny similarities between Mr Darcy and myself. His reservation, his refusal to participate in social mores, his terse disposition but apparent ability to write very long letters, etc. I also began to realize that my behaviour towards the other characters onstage was not entirely dissimilar to my behaviour towards the other cast members off stage. Not that I’m rude towards them, just a bit distant since I have trouble approaching people.
And then it clicked. To the untrained eye, shyness and pride can appear similar. Add to that the fact that my interests tend to be academic or artistic interests, and my saying things like “Pretentious is a word non-artists use to describe people who have done something with their lives,” and I suddenly get how people might get confused as to where I’m coming from.
They’re still wrong! And I’m still frustrated! However, now seeing where they might be coming from, I can look for courteous ways of dealing with the accusations when they arise.
There’s a lesson for me here too. They’re guilty of not trying to figure out where I’m coming from but I’ve been a bit blind as well. I’m not going to change who I am to cater to people whose opinions don’t really matter, but I can at least learn how to best present myself when it does matter.
And really, a person who asks “You think you’re better than me” is probably dealing with some insecurity themselves and could use some patience and love.