Confidence or Arrogance: walking the line

Cocky or confident? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. The line between confidence and arrogance seems ultra thin, yet it is so easy to see in others.

Part of this thought stems from reading Macbeth with my high school students and having conversations about Macbeth’s overconfidence and how it leads to his death. Also, I can never get Mr. Darcy’s proposal out of my head when I think of arrogance.

For those who have never read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, I will include the scene I am thinking of (Fitzwilliam Darcy is asking Elizabeth Bennet to marry him):

‘In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ . . . He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority–of its being a degradation–of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit. . . . He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security” (Chapter 34).

Naturally, Elizabeth rejects his proposal to get married because it is an insult.
‘From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to for that groundwork of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not know you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry’” (chapter 34).

His arrogance seems unchecked and she uses her anger to bring him back across the line. Yet, he continues his arrogant blundering even after her rejection (this time answering for his work in separating his friend Bingly from Elizabeth’s sister Jane):

‘I have no wish of denying that I did every thing in my power to separate my friend from your sister, or that I rejoice in my success. Toward him I have been kinder than towards myself’” (Chapter 34).


It seems that I am not the only one thinking about this idea of the line between confidence and arrogance. I found a link to an article on Twitter that was exactly what I was thinking about! “The Fine Line Between Self-Confidence & Cockiness” by Derek Whitney.

In this article, Whitney helps to add clarity to my original thought: if the line is so thin, why is it so obvious? Here is what Whitney writes:

“Cocky people do have confidence, but it comes from a different place than true self-assurance. Arrogance is one result of building self-esteem from outward sources such as financial privilege or constant praise.”

This is exactly the point that Elizabeth (Austen) is making when it comes to Darcy! He gains confidence from his position and the praise that he receives, which he eventually does realize by the end of the book.

Whitney goes on to write:
“You build true self-confidence from within and project it to the world. Confident people have a realistic picture of their own traits and abilities and trust themselves enough to respond to life authentically. They learn from failure rather than letting it define them, and they forge ahead a bit wiser.”

So there it is. The line. From arrogance to confidence. Just like Darcy at the end of the novel:
‘I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. . . . . Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretentions to please a woman worthy of being pleased’” (Chapter 58).

Now the line is clear: learning from mistakes, making actual changes, and being confident in actual abilities and traits makes someone confident.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

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