At Work & Theology 101

Arrogance at Work Is Serious Business


We love arrogant sitcom characters. Every TV generation has them.

There is Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory. Before Sheldon, there was Dwight on The Office, Niles on Frasier and his brother Frasier on Cheers. Those with a little gray hair might remember Charles Emerson Winchester III on M.A.S.H.

In an episode of the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon tried to teach his neighbor Penny about physics. Penny just wasn’t getting it and started to cry. Sheldon asked, “Why are you crying?” Penny responded, “Because I’m stupid!” Sheldon quipped, “That’s no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid – and that makes me sad.”

Sitcoms are fun to watch because they help us look and laugh at ourselves. Sometimes they reveal truth about us. Sheldon is absurdly arrogant. As a comedic caricature, his extreme ego points to something serious and real in each of us.

Arrogance Is Serious Business

As we continue our study of the Apostle Paul’s description of love, we learn in I Corinthians 13:4 that love is not arrogant.

Arrogance is the expression of pride. It is the outward manifestation of an inflated love of self.

In Romans 12:3, Paul challenges us about having an inflated opinion of ourselves:

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Knowledge, an otherwise good thing, is a common source of arrogance in the workplace. We are often convinced that we have a better idea, better approach or better vision than our colleagues and leaders.

Sometimes we genuinely have better ideas. The question is – do we share our ideas in ways that build up our colleagues? Or, are we only interested in winning the argument, getting our way, or proving our point?

In this era of the knowledge worker it is extremely tempting to establish our workplace identities around knowledge. The more our knowledge-centric identities are threatened by competing ideas, the more forcefully (and sometimes manipulatively) we push for the adoption of our own ideas.

In discussing this blog post, one of my IFWE colleagues insightfully noted that knowledge-centric arrogance leads to isolation. People tire of opinionated know-it-alls that always have to be right. Knowledge-centric arrogance can lead to the destruction of workplace relationships and, in turn, camaraderie and teamwork.

Without love, knowledge degenerates into obnoxious arrogance; with love it is a valuable asset. Arrogance is inflated selfishness. Arrogance is devoid of love and love is devoid of arrogance; indeed both are mutually exclusive.

– Simon Kistemaker

A Prayer for the Day

Although obvious to others, it is not easy to see arrogance in ourselves. We sometimes need friends to help us see our own arrogance. The obvious challenge is that our relationships can be so eroded by our pride that none of our friends are willing to step in with the mirror that would enable us to see ourselves clearly.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit is ever present in our lives. He teaches and guides us through God’s Word and enables us to see things in ourselves that we can’t see on our own. He hears our petitions and answers prayers, like this one:

Help me to be humble at work today. Help me to love my colleagues. Remind me that my identity is in Jesus, not in my own knowledge and reputation. Help me to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Enable me to look not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of my colleagues. Put arrogance behind me and help me to glorify you with my heart, mind, soul and strength.

Next week – Love is not rude.

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  • Thomas Leonard

    Insightful thought – “knowledge-centric arrogance leads to isolation” – which makes me think that like in interpersonal love, love in the work community depends hugely on communication. People can make assume others’ arrogance merely by misinterpreting behavior, whereas both sides would be better served by clearly communicating their intentions and perceptions.

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