2018 Word of the Year


A reader was kind enough to remind me, six months ago, that I hadn’t written about 2018’s Word of the Year yet.

To remind you: every year (since 2017) I’ve chosen a Word of the Year instead of making a resolution. I got the idea from my hypnosis teacher, Mike Mandel.

2017’s WOTY was attention. And 2019’s WOTY, which I haven’t announced here yet (though I’d broadcast it on Twitter) is lead—as in “to lead,” though the noun would probably work too.

2018’s WOTY was not really one to broadcast. I’m still not sure I want to share it (which may be a reason it’s taken me six months to respond to the reader’s reminder): humility.

I have been called arrogant more than once by people whose opinions matter, and I wanted to spend 2018 looking at that aspect of myself.

I didn’t do a very good job of it. I’m not very good at humility. Or maybe I’m wrong.

Humility is not the same as modesty. I recognize that I have gifts. If I pretended that I did not have them or recognize them, that would be a falsehood. What’s more, it would be an arrogant falsehood, ascribing more importance to my own pretense than to the truth.

Nor is humility the same as humiliation. Humility is not allowing others to put themselves above or ahead of you.

An antonym of humility is arrogance, from arrogare, “to claim for oneself, assume” to me implies a false claim, an undeserved assumption, a pretense. Another falshehood.

I don’t accept “arrogance” as a synonym for “self-confidence.” If I accurately recognize my gifts (based, for example, on the world’s reactions to me) that doesn’t make me arrogant.

If I claimed that my gifts were not gifts, but that I was ultimately responsible for the obtaining of them, that would be arrogant. Or if I thought those gifts make me better than other people, or made me deserve more than other people, that would make me arrogant.

I am a hard determinist. Everything that will happen was determined at the instant of creation. This is not to say that any of it is predictable—a computer capable of predicting what will happen in the next instant would have to be at least as complex as the system that it was modeling, which is the Universe. But it is to say everything I am and do is ultimately attributable to my genes and upbringing, which I ultimately did not choose.

Contrast that with fundamental attribution error, which attributes to fortune one’s own failures and others’ successes, and attributes to character others’ failures and one’s own successes.

In my view, character is itself fortune.

All men are not created equal. I’ve been luckier than most. (And if you can bring yourself to zoom out far enough, so have you.) My good fortune doesn’t make me superior, because I didn’t ultimately choose it. I say “ultimately,” because I have made some good choices, but those decisions were ultimately determined by the circumstances of my birth and early upbringing.

What my good fortune does make me is obligated to help those less fortunate. (Why? Heck if I know. This feeling of obligation is somehow on the same strands of genetic and memetic material as the good fortune I’ve been the beneficiary of. Many good things have come to me from helping those less fortunate.)

Which brings us back around to the WOTY at issue.

If I am going to live a life of humility, it’s not going to be pretending to be something I’m not or concealing what I am, for good or bad. It’s going to be using my talents to serve my fellow humans in need, and to bedevil those who would exploit them.


7 responses to “2018 Word of the Year”

  1. Reading your journey almost seems as you want us to agree with you and discredit those you find you arrogant. But since measuring & defining “gifts” is relative, those whose opinion matter may perceive your understanding as arrogant. If humility required a bit of vulnerability in understanding, a bit of self doubt in one’s self evaluation, would we be willing to be vulnerable, even if for a second? To leave some room for error in how we perceive ourselves for the sake of receiving a different view? Is there any insecurity or a power play that keeps us from choosing to consider that our understanding may not be complete? If a vessel is full, how can there be room for something else to be added? And since humility itself cannot be willed, would we be willing to be uncomfortable and cease some control in order for humility to enter? Or maybe all this is just bologna and the people whose opinion mater to you are just technically wrong and you are just “gifted”.

    • There are lots of possibilities.

      Maybe those who call me arrogant share my assessment of my gifts, but define arrogant differently than I do (and this is key: incorrectly, because if you broaden arrogance to include an accurate assessment of one’s abilities, the word loses all value).

      Or, as I say, maybe I’m wrong.

      • Why the need to say “Or, as I say, maybe I’m wrong”? An opening of a window you kept shut on your post? A link to your “Why? Heck if I know” comment?

        Here’s a thought. You’re assessment about your gifts is correct. And you do know why you help others. You do it because you choose to, because you want to. And that’s evidence that you are not arrogant. I’m sure the people whose opinion mater to you would agree with this if you take ownership of your compassion.

        Why deflect it to genetics? What’s the harm?

        We better leave it at that before the fabric of the universe rips with that “maybe I’m wrong” curveball you threw at us.

  2. Arrogance is believing that you are superior to others. To me being arrogant (snobby) is an inferior trait. Being self-confident is a good thing, and there’s nothing wrong with a little cockiness, when deserved. I find the first trait very unappealing but the latter two quite sexy. The fact that you use your talent and obviously high intelligence to promote justice and help others means you are not arrogant at all. You can be humble about your greatness without being fake by allowing others to tout your talents rather than bragging about them yourself (not saying you are bragging I’m saying that’s a way to be humble and still be real). And while I agree that our innate characteristics are not ours to be proud of, just as we shouldn’t shame others for their inherent traits, many “fortunates” have made bad choices and/or not honed their talent the way you have. Personally I love to watch you call someone out for making a dumbass comment. People who are easily offended annoy me, perhaps the internet is not the best place for them. ?

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