In 1976 Greenleaf wrote: …we Americans are arrogant. It hurts – but I accept the charge.
Our arrogance stems, I believe, from the fact of our great power. In the years that the British were the great power, they were seen as arrogant. When the next shift comes, the nation that emerges into that unfortunate spot will quite likely be seen as arrogant. Civilization, it seems, has not advanced to a point where, as a natural gift of grace, either individuals, institutions, or governments are likely to be both powerful and humble without some basic changes in public thinking that are not yet evident. Some may make it but the odds are against it.
…I have learned from Father Benjamin Tonna of Malta that humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from, and gratefully to receive the gifts of, the less powerful. It is in my experience to know this…
Arrogant = making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud
Arrogance = offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride
I am sitting here recalling the time I first offered Greenleaf’s observation to a group, the negative response whelmed me over. ‘We are not an arrogant country’ one person shouted out (with a tinge of arrogance, I might add). A brief study of our history beginning in 1945 regarding how we relate to other countries reveals the extent of our arrogance. Greenleaf wrote his observation in 1976 – are we less arrogant today? Today, more than ever before, this question causes me to pause and reflect.
To what extent is our arrogance rooted in fear? Fear of other emerging countries – China, for example. Fear of losing our economic position in the world – which we are losing. Fear of other countries holding us accountable – we fear being members of the World Court and yet expect others to abide by their decisions. Since we humans have been tracking our histories a common denominator is that the most powerful countries demonstrated arrogance rooted in fear. We seem to be no different.
What would it look like for a country to be ‘both powerful and humble’? How would such a country respond to other countries? What type of leadership role would such a country display?
Father Tonna provided Greenleaf – and us – with an interesting and challenging insight: ‘humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from, and gratefully receive the gifts of, the less powerful.’ Talk about a challenge for our country; talk about a challenge for ‘We the People’. I have known individuals (and I have at times been one of them) whose arrogance hindered, at times directly blocked, their ability to be open to learning from or receiving the gifts of certain others. I have known organizations that have also demonstrated this – my sense is that you, Gentle Reader, also know such organizations and such individuals. I have read the histories of other countries that have demonstrated this arrogance – if it was true for them then why not for us?
Are we, as a country, arrogant? How do we know? Do we want to know? What if we are? If we are, does our arrogance get us what we want? What do we want? Are we a fear-full country? What might contribute to our being fear-full? What are we afraid of? Many of us claim that WE ARE A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY. If this is true then why are we so afraid; why are we not able to embrace the most used phrase in the Christian Scriptures – ‘Be Not Afraid!’
Some say that Greenleaf’s observation was not ‘on the mark’ – perhaps not. But what if he was? What if his observation is true today? Are we even willing to entertain the idea? If not, why not?