A recently graduated PhD just got hired to be the lab manager of a prestigious research lab. What's more, he is the only PhD on his team; the other two team members only hold a Master's degree. Since he wanted to get to know his team members better, he asked them if they would like to do something over the weekend. The two team members said they usually go to a nearby pond to fish and relax and invited him to join this Saturday. He happily agreed.
On Saturday, they met at the pond, fished, and chatted over some drinks. Suddenly, the first team member said he needs to use the washroom. The PhD thought the team member would walk around the pond to reach the washroom across the pond. To his surprise, the person hopped across the pond as if he could walk on water! After the person came back, they started chatting again.
Soon, the second team member said he needs to use the washroom too. Amazingly, this person also hopped across the water to reach the washroom! The PhD was baffled, but he was too embarrassed to ask these Master's students how they did it.
Not long after, the PhD also needed to use the washroom. He looked at the water, then he looked at his team members and thought to himself, "I'm a PhD. If they can do it, I can do it too!"
He hopped onto the water. SPLASH. The two team members pulled him out and asked, "Why did you jump into the water?! You should walk around the pond!"
The PhD said, "But I saw you guess hop across the water, so I thought I could too!"
The team members said, "Oh that's because we are very familiar with this pond. There are stones across the pond that lead to the other side. Since there was heavy rain the past few days, the water covered the stones. But we know where the stones are, so we can hop across."
There's a Chinese saying that goes,
"Arrogance brings harm. Humility brings benefit."
This story is a light-hearted example. If we think about it, people can become arrogant from so many things, such as fame, wealth, position, appearances, and even educational background. Perhaps some might argue, "What's wrong with being proud of these things? I worked hard for them!"
Firstly, when we think we are great, we become less careful, and that’s when it’s easy to make mistakes. The PhD in the story was so arrogant about his PhD status that he thought he could hop on water!
Secondly, when we think we are great, it becomes hard to improve. If we are not improving, then we will fall behind. If that PhD is very complacent with his PhD status, then he might not spend enough effort keeping up with the changes in his field, which would result in him falling behind.
Thirdly, when we think we are great, we give off an air of arrogance, and other people will dislike us. I can imagine that PhD giving orders to his team members without considering their feelings, or pointing out every little mistake that others make. Indeed, when there's an arrogant person in the group, all the other people know it, and we all try to avoid that person.
Once we see the harm of arrogance, we are much more willing to practice humility. A humble person is someone who is always seeking to learn from others, no matter if they are an expert or a child. If you are trying to learn from them, you would naturally be respectful and polite towards them, and that leaves a good impression on others. Since a humble person is always learning and improving, they wouldn't fall behind in their field. Finally, a humble person is very careful in all matters because they are always trying to improve themselves through even the small things.
I usually teach high school students in Canada, but recently, I had the opportunity to teach some elementary school students in Malaysia. Initially, I never thought that I could learn from such young kids. One day, two brothers had a fight in my class, and I couldn't make them happy. Later that day, they got happy on their own. I was baffled at how they went from angry to happy so fast.
I asked one of them, "How did you become happy?" He said, "I don't know. I went to do other things." Another teacher told me, "They are kids. They don't make a big fuss about things after the fact like us adults do." I realized in some ways, little kids are better than me, and I should learn from them. Indeed, anyone can be our teacher if we are humble.
Another time, a colleague told me, "Don't give suggestions in front of that person. She is very arrogant and always asserts her own opinions over others." It's a shame that people are not willing to give her suggestions and point out her problems. What's worse, her arrogance makes others feel uncomfortable around her, which means people are less willing to help her. She is a very enthusiastic and well-intentioned person with great ability, but without humility, it will be hard for her to improve and get better opportunities in the future.
These past couple of months, I've been tutoring someone English. Since I have experience in this field, I used my usual method. Later, I found out from a friend of the student that my method was not as effective as I thought. Although my method worked well for previous students, every student is different, and I realized I needed to make some adjustments. If I had been more humble from the beginning, I wouldn't have assumed that this job is easy and that I can just do what I've always done. Moreover, I shouldn't just teach English for the sake of teaching, but rather try to improve my teaching abilities with each class.
Arrogance is a very subtle but harmful trait that we all have. The minor consequences might be thinking we can hop on water…The major consequences might be offending the people around us and continuously making the same mistakes because no one is willing to advise us. As D.L. Moody said,
"Be humble, or you'll stumble."
Weekly Wisdom #233