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Hitting Home

Fine lines differentiate confidence, humility and arrogance


The Denver Nuggets, if you haven't noticed, are a very interesting team to watch this year. They've made some huge strides, after a few abysmal seasons, and have a legitimate star in the making in Nikola Jokic. But, they had a game a couple weeks ago, against the Houston Rockets, in which they out-played the better team. Unfortunately, the Nuggets missed 12 free throws in the second half - they usually only miss 7 in a whole game - and lost by 4 points. A week later, they played a critical game in which they were competing, but, inexplicably, abandoned their game plan for 5 minutes, fell behind, and lost. It seems they had a crisis of confidence.

I've been thinking a lot lately about confidence, humility, and arrogance, and the fine lines that differentiate those qualities. Champions, in whatever walk of life, are very confident people, and that's a good thing-you wouldn't want to have your cardiac surgeon tell you "I'm really hoping your triple bypass is going be fine, Mrs. Smith." No, I want the surgeon who says "You have nothing to worry about." The Nuggets could use a player who says to the rest of the team, "calm down, fellas, I got this."

The problem is when that confidence slides over into arrogance. If the same surgeon takes it for granted that the surgery will be fine, so they don't get enough sleep the night before, that would be arrogant - and disastrous. One of the Nuggets, who missed practice, shouldn't be the one who tries to take the team on his back. That would be arrogant.

Scripture tells us that "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall," and the Greeks called it "hubris." Whatever you call it, we've got lots of it in our civic life. You don't think President Trump's arrogance contribute to his bad relationships with Congress, bad decorum, and tenuous relationship with the truth, all of which have contributed to his rocky first two months? Please.

Then you ask yourself, how did he ever get here? And, you look back at a general election campaign in which he, despite that arrogance, simply outworked his opponent-at one point in late October, he had held three public campaign events to every two of Hillary's - and you wonder if Hillary wasn't beaten by her own arrogance. Sure, there were a lot of contributing factors, but she never once campaigned in Wisconsin, and her presence in Ohio and Michigan was scant, and she was confident that, at one point, she stopped polling in critical places. She campaigned arrogantly, and lost.

I think we even saw such a dynamic on a local level. I stayed out of the campaign for the mill and bond in Jeffco this time around, which made me only slightly more silent on the issue than the district itself. Whatever P.R. campaign they were running, I couldn't tell you what it was, and it obviously didn't work. I have to wonder if the district didn't simply believe that the easy results of the recall election last year made the passage of 3A and 3B a foregone conclusion.

The most effective people I've ever known were people who could be confident of their abilities, while always keeping their arrogance in check. And, I think, the easiest way to do that is to cultivate a little humility (may I suggest marriage and parenthood?). As C.S. Lewis said once, "humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is, rather, thinking of yourself less." Effective athletes and politicos shouldn't be thinking about how unfair it was that they lost - they should be thinking about what the other team or the public are telling them by their defeat. Have the humility to face reality, have the humility to go back to work, and come back again, confident that you've learned your lesson and gotten it right.

And that works in all walks, not just bright spotlit ones.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com

Michael Alcorn


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