Friday, June 02, 2006

Needed : Honest arrogance

As I have written before, every time Sachin Tendulkar utters a politically correct, pseudo-humble statement in that babyish voice of his (“ Records are not important to me. Only the team is”), it gets my goat. Come on, if you have scored 35 centuries and more than 10000 runs, you are entitled to (and expected to) gloat a bit.

But Tendulkar is not alone.

Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he became the first man to land on the moon,“ This is a small step for me, but a giant leap for mankind” stand out for their modesty. Here was someone, at the biggest moment of his life, completely marginalizing his individual role and thinking of humanity as a whole. How awesome! Except that his words simply don’t ring true.

I have often wondered how many speech writers at NASA must have sat together for endless hours gulping down countless cups of coffees and cokes, to fulfill the mandate of coming out with a memorable line for posterity. That line simply did not sound genuine and spontaneous.

Charles Conrad Jr, the leader of the next mission - Apollo 12 - that landed on the moon soon after, was refreshingly honest when he shouted "Whoopie! Man, that step may have been a small one for Neil, but it's a long one for me!”

Take Isaac Newton. An undoubted genius, but not without some human frailties. His spats, feuds and ego clashes with fellow scientists and contemporaries like Liebnitz ( who is credited with conceptualizing Calculus independently) were legendary. Yet he came out with a sugary statement, “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” that smacked of false modesty.

Contrast this with Benjamin Franklin who had no such hang-ups when he claimed, “Even if I became the most humble man in the world, I would still be proud of my humility." Or Leonardo Da Vinci who used to say that it was better for people to be deaf than blind because a deaf man could at least see his paintings. Geniuses who knew their worth and made no bones about it.

The renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in his memoirs “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.” I like this sentiment.


Anu said...

When I read about Armstrong I was reminded of Rakesh Sharma. On being asked by Indira Gandhi how India looked from outer space he replied "Saare jahan se achcha!". It seemed rather spontaneous, but I have always wondered.
Honest arrogance/hypocritical is always the danger of misplaced arrogance. I would anyday vote for honest humility which some of the best Scientific minds possessed

Raj said...

Anu,yes, 'honest humility' would be desirable, but is difficult to find. Public posture and statements of scientists like Newton, Edison, suggested that they were humble souls, but get deeper into their life stories, you realise how conceited they were. Watson of DNA fame ruffled several feathers before he claimed that fame.

Anu said...

On the contrary! There are innumerable examples of Scientists with touching humility. Einstein being one of them. Remember he said he had never seen a theoritical physicist till the age of 28. I dont remember who it was who asked him if he had never looked into the mirror.

Raj said...

Anu, arrogance can take several forms. Like Einstein dismissing the Quantum theory with contempt, " God doesn't play dice". Which was a case of honest arrogance.

Anu said...

Einstein and arrogance. Why does my mind refuse to use them both in the same sentence?
A general arrogance about one's own capabilities(as illustrated in the examples in your post) is a whole lot different from the expression of strong confidence(or the lack of it)in a certain theory.
I firmly believe that science by its very nature makes its 'practionsers' humble. Also true greatness goes hand in hand with humility.