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August 29, 2009
Photo by Glamhag

Photo by Glamhag

I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been accused of being arrogant. From my perspective, except for a few years in my mid-20s, it has been an unfair label. As a kid, I was just a shy, introverted, somewhat nerdy, outcast. Being born with facial deformities doesn’t necessarily endear one to others. Kids don’t just ostracize, they are downright mean. Like most, I have no desire to repeat my childhood.

I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palette. My surgeon told my parents that it was one of the worst he’d seen, and he should know – Dr. Verner V. Lindgren was one of the finest facial plastic surgeons in the country.  We were fortunate that he worked out of OHSU in Portland. I had my first surgery within weeks of my birth, and several more during the rest of my life.  Although, as a kid, I didn’t see anything abnormal about all this. My parents and family loved me deeply, and I lived a rich life – at least until the age of five.

I remember being at the local school with my best friend Phillip Long. We were on our bikes when four older boys approached us and started asking me about my lip and nose.  At first it was friendly banter, but soon it turned into teasing, ridicule, and outright bullying.  Phillip and I were both caught off-guard.  We both stood there in fear as they called me “flat-nose” and other assorted names.  That afternoon was a turning point in my life.  For the first time, I knew I was different.  I pulled back and withdrew from others.

“Some people have scars on the inside, and some have scars on the outside. We all have scars.” ~my parents

Kids are cruel towards those who are different.  When they get a reaction, they are like sharks who smell blood.  The more the teased, or bullied, withdraw, cry, or react with anger, the more the other kids pile on.  I learned to live a life where I knew I would be picked last in sports, where other kids would go out of their way to not be seen near me, and where they made a huge scene if they had to work on a project with me.  I was “unclean.” I remember whole classrooms ganging up to make sure I was the loser in a game.  It wasn’t just my imagination, there really was nothing done about bullying in the 60s.

By the time I entered high school, I had come to expect that girls wouldn’t want to be my friend – let alone “like” me. I learned to entertain myself and avoid situations where I would be rejected.  Actually, if it wasn’t for my brothermy one true childhood friend – I may not have learned what friendship was.  He is one person in my life who truly doesn’t see the defect, but just sees me.  I will be forever grateful for him in my life.

Bilateral Cleft Baby Crying Before Surgery

Image by interplast via Flickr

But it was also in my teen years that I first began to hear the aloof and arrogant labels from others. I didn’t really understand the criticism, and I didn’t really spend much time dwelling on it then – I was just trying to survive.  Later in life, however, I began to understand where those labels came from.

Because I had learned to withdraw and be self-sufficient, emotionally, and socially, people saw me as aloof – which simply means to be “removed or distant either physically or emotionally.”  That I was – distant, and removed – I mean.  But I wasn’t arrogant.  I didn’t see myself as “exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner.”  I was just avoiding danger – emotional danger.  There is a big difference – but sometimes people confuse the two terms.

After a failed marriage and painful divorce, I attempted my first reinvention of myself.  I decided that the shy, withdrawn, nerdy, socially-awkward me wasn’t working.  Life was not working out the way I thought it would, so I knew I had to make some changes.  So, without fanfare, but with much gusto, I charged ahead towards the new me.  And, I have to admit, it was fun for awhile.

I remember walking into the day room of the fire station I worked at. Well, it was more of a strut really.  As far as I was concerned, I believed I had the world by the balls. I’d like to say that I found a good balance between timidity and arrogance – but that would be revisionist history.  I’d like to say that I achieved self-discovery and healing.  I’d like to say, that I chose good tools to achieve good mental health, but that too would be a lie.  I had become what people had labeled me.  I was arrogant and cocky.

There’s something about working in a male-dominated environment that encourages this too. A fire officer that I knew once suggested that the way to be successful in the fire service was to become an “a**hole.”  I took his advice, but being the overachiever that I am, I wanted to be the best. And this one afternoon, as I strutted into the day room, one of my co-workers jumped up from his chair and gave it to me.  Lacking any humility, or decency, or self-respect, I took the chair.  Yep, I had arrived.  I was officially an asshole jerk!

I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but that too would be a lie.  I had gone from one extreme to the other.

“I know there’s a balance, ‘cuz I see it when I swing past.” ~John Mellencamp

Sometimes it seems like we just swing from one extreme to the other. Like the pendulum, we swing, without ever stopping at that balance point of stability. Through therapy, self-medication, and thoughtful introspection – guided by some great books – I came to see myself as no more inferior than the next guy.  In fact, the emotional scars were deeper than the surgery scars, and I was learning to let those go.  As Confucius once said, “To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.” So, I began to let go. I began to forgive.

More therapy and less self-medication would have been good. More thoughtful meditation and prayer would have been helpful too.  I do have to admit that there was some self-satisfaction in being the big dog.  The uniform, the attitude, and being really good at my job – it was a nice change from who I used to be.  But it wears pretty thin after awhile.  Like the definition says above, arrogance is just an “exaggeration of one’s self worth or importance, in an overbearing way.”

Photo by Steve Wilhelm

Photo by Steve Wilhelm

I’ve spent the last 20+ years trying to unlearn some of that arrogance. In the process, I’ve learned to be confident, self-assured, and socially aware. After a few more reinventions, I’ve learned how to be assertive, without being aggressive.  I’m still a little nerdy, and geeky, if the truth were known, but I’ve learned to downplay that in social situations.  Like most, I still have my moments of self-doubt and emotional withdrawal, but for the most part, I deal with that pretty well too.  I am driven, and I like to be right, so I still get labeled as arrogant now and then.  But I’ve learned to let go of the name-calling and bullying.

I can’t let other people’s labels influence my self-awareness, direction, or vision.  Those have to be guided by an internal moral compass.  That isn’t to say that I don’t pay attention to people’s comments.  Who can’t learn from what others say about us?  But I don’t let that influence my core values or set me on a path of self-loathing, introversionor to the other extreme, cocky self-importance.

Finding the balance, that is key.  I can’t do it on my own.  My pendulum would continue to swing from one crazy extreme to the other if it weren’t for gravity.  Gravity, at the center of my life, causes my internal pendulum to swing less wildly, and without the extremes of my youth.  The more I let that gravity have influence in my life, the more my pendulum finds a better center of balance.

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  1. Terre permalink
    August 29, 2009 10:09 pm

    Being accused of Arrogance is one of the hardest character attacks to defend against. If we try to defend ourselves we only seem to exasperate the problem. It’s not unlike being accused of argueing. If we try to say we don’t, we only prove we do.

    Or the how about the provocative question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” ;^ )

    Sometimes silence is best.


    • August 30, 2009 1:18 am

      I was listening to a polemic on Sarah Palin the other day. As Bill Whittle says in this video , if you’re guilty, you know exactly what to say – because you have practiced your excuse and alibi. But if you’re innocent, you will be caught off guard by the accusation.

      Something to think about anyway…

      Thanks for the feedback Terre!


    • Terre permalink
      August 30, 2009 8:08 am

      LOL, with an avatar like the one assigned to me here, it is easy to see why my emotions and actions might be misunderstood! :^ )


  2. manual ford permalink
    August 30, 2009 11:46 am

    Great site, I now have you bookmarked to come back again.


  3. August 30, 2009 8:23 pm

    Interesting post – thanks for noticing what a wonderful brother I am!!!!!! 🙂


  4. August 31, 2009 1:24 pm

    It is too bad that we never stop to consider why people put up the fronts they do. It is just too easy to say “He’s a jerk.” and move on. I think if we took the time to look just a little past the ‘false front’ we would be surprised at all the hurt and rejected souls hiding there. Thanks for the reminder to not be so quick to judge me fellow humans. Kim

    BTW, I didn’t notice any scars when we met, all I noticed was how much your wife seems to adore you and how good you are with your kids….then again I like to watch the parents in my class out of the corner of my eyes…so don’t be pickin’ your nose or anything…


    • August 31, 2009 6:24 pm

      Yeah, I use my stories to enlighten and share values that will help others become better parents. Working through these issues, has helped me to better deal with in-laws, children, and, um, the occasional naysayer.

      Most people don’t notice the scars, unless they look. I learned a trick a long, long time ago. Back in ’85, after the big snow storm. I learned that if I (or anyone with an deformity or handicap), am self conscious, or do anything to draw attention to the issue, others will notice it too. I’ve met a lot of people with bad teeth, cleft lips/palates (1 in 600 births), or facial birthmarks who self/sub-consciously try to hide the disfigurement with their hands. It only draws attention to it.

      When I learned that I am not identified by just one of my characteristics (or employment status, BTW), then others forget all about it.

      We are a family that adores each other – thanks for noticing Kim. That is my #1 occupation!


  5. August 31, 2009 6:31 pm

    From Facebook:

    Steve Leddy, Mike Fletcher and Charleen Rogers like this.

    Travis Claybrooks:
    Thanks Gary. “It’s not what people call you that matters, it’s what you answer to.” ~Tyler Perry.

    Rubyjean Vance Anderson Clark:
    Gary I have NEVER thought of you as arrogant! I still don’t. I llike what Travis said…it is what you answer too, and I would add, WHO!

    Gary Walter:
    Well, of course ALL of my arrogant tendencies are long past. 😉 Indeed, the pendulum continues to find it’s balance point. Jesus is my anchor point – he is the gravity in the illustration above.

    Thanks for your comments! Good quote Travis – thanks!


  6. September 4, 2009 11:54 am

    Hey, being arrogant is not a problem at all, it somehow shows that you have great faith in yourself, people around and your life situation. It’s far better than being indifferent. Cleft lip may be your born weakness, but you can’t change it. As long as you had a successful cleft lip surgery, it can be turned as a gift, the belief to be normal and live better. Just as my name indicates, hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies.


    • September 4, 2009 8:50 pm

      Well, I compare arrogance to aggressive, as confident is to assertive. Confident and assertive is healthy, arrogant and aggressive can be hurtful. Thanks for stopping by – I’m a big supporter, and several of my friends give financially, or with their medical expertise!



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