The Ten Evils (Part One)

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This was originally one exceptionally long post. I chose to split it into five pieces for readability purposes. I’ll post a segment each day this week.

Recently, I was leafing through a book at the library discussing Japanese martial arts (I believe it was Budo Secrets) when I came upon a sidebar that listed the ten evils that prevent people from improving themselves.

As I read through the list, I couldn’t help but see how each of these evils – or character flaws, as I would perhaps describe them – have held me back in my finances, my career, and my life in different ways.

While thinking about these ten terms, I consulted a dictionary and spent some time reflecting on how each of these has held me back – and can hold you back, too.

(I decided to highlight these ten evils with some wonderful Creative Commons photographs that illustrate each of these traps.)

Insolence
Insolence, by Todd van Goethem

Insolence
Arrogant conduct; insulting, bold behaviour or attitude.

Arrogance and insolence come from a sense that you can’t truly learn or obtain anything of value from this situation. Because of that, you believe the current situation has less value than you do.

If you treat others in a way that indicates to them that they have less value than you, then all you’re doing is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believing that you’ll get little from this situation and acting that way ensures that you will get much less from this situation than you might have otherwise.

You’ll overlook things. You’ll convince others to not reveal things to you. You’ll walk away from the situation far poorer than you might have otherwise.

A far more useful attitude to have in any situation is an attitude of respectfulness. Every single situation we’re faced with in life has the opportunity to reveal something valuable to us, either directly or by putting pieces in place for future things. That value, in every situation and interaction, deserves respect.

You can achieve this in several ways. First, keep your internal critic in check. If you open up with criticism, the other person is likely to close up on you and you’ll not find much of value in the rest of the conversation (ideas, a job offer, ideas you can learn from and apply in your life, etc.).

Second, if you can’t think of anything to say that isn’t critical, ask a question that’s actually a question and not just a (not really) vieled criticism. Look for things that do have value to you by probing deeper.

Finally, pay attention. There are things of value in every situation if you give it your attention and look for it. Every article I read has some value in it for me, even if it’s something simple like showing me a cultural difference or a perspective difference between myself and someone else. It allows me to see the world through someone else’s eyes and that vision often reveals all kinds of things. That has great value, but an insolent attitude quickly tosses it aside.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, by Keith Allison

Overconfidence
An excessive degree of self-assurance.

Most people are familiar with the decision of the basketball player LeBron James to leave his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and play with a different team that already had two star players (Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh) that were friends of his.

I respected that decision. I can understand the appeal of wanting to associate closely with friends. I can understand the desire to want the highest quality team, because almost all work is on some level a team game. His method of announcing his decision might have been a bit schlocky, but even then, it was just one way of capitalizing on a flood of media interest.

What made me wary of this move was what he did the following night, when he appeared publicly with his new teammates and discussed how they were going to win eight championships. That type of statement, indicating that he believed his team would dominate the league for the next decade, encouraged a lot of people (including myself) to root for any team other than the Heat.

It’s one thing to be confident and say things like “I believe with this team we have assembled, we have an excellent chance of winning the title this year if we put together some hard work and come together as a team.” It’s an entirely different thing to claim you’re going to win eight titles.

The result of this is that this team spent the entire year receiving an extremely negative response almost everywhere they went and, when the season ended, it was not their team holding up the title.

It’s good to be internally confident and have a sense that we can take on life’s challenges. It’s sometimes good to even be somewhat externally confident and willing to step up to the plate in a challenging situation.

It’s never good to over-promise and under-deliver, particularly when your promise is beyond reason. You lose the respect of those around you and you turn potential friends and opportunities into enemies and lost chances.

The superior attitude here is modesty. Under-promise what you can achieve. Offer respect towards others. Play down your own contributions and play up the contributions of others. Invest your resources in a way that will allow you to cover what you promise with some potential upside if things go well.

Then, when you over-deliver, you look like a true winner, one that can hold the title and still have the respect of those around you.

Modesty and humility are always valuable tactics. They will help you build relationships that will help you in your professional career, your personal life, and your financial life, too.

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18 thoughts on “The Ten Evils (Part One)

  1. I totally agree with you on modesty vs overconfidence. However, it seems to me that arrogance is usually rewarded in sports, if not in an actual championship, then in the media and contracts. This is kind of partly why I don’t watch them anymore (and therefore I could be wrong).

  2. Couldn’t agree more regarding humility. Humility doesn’t get the credit it deserves these days but it is the cornerstone to true leadership.

  3. Hmm. In the introduction, you say that these character flaws have held you back in your own life, but in the rest of the article, there’s no evidence of that modesty – you’re suddenly talking like you’ve got it all figured out and are in a position to tell the rest of us what to do.

    And I can’t help but wonder whether this:

    “You’ll overlook things. You’ll convince others to not reveal things to you. You’ll walk away from the situation far poorer than you might have otherwise.”

    is what happens when you totally ignore reader comments.

    (And yes, before anyone points it out, I realize that this comment is pretty insolent itself. But is it really insolent to point out insolence?)

  4. Based on his intro, I was expecting Trent to tell us specifically how the items on the list have held him back (as related to the issues he regularly discusses on the blog), rather than using other people as examples or just discussing what the better ideal is.

  5. Trent not mentioning his personal experiences on these things doesn’t bother me. Things like this can be very personal and him acknowledging that they have held him back is enough for me. I also don’t feel like in this post he acts as though he’s got it all figured out like Johanna mentions above (even though in many of his post he does have a better than you way of writing.)

  6. Well, then. How could I not heed the every word of someone who has a better than me way of writing?

  7. Johanna, why do you even read this blog? I notice you frequently post negative comments….If you disagree so much that you must post unpleasant commentary REGULARLY, why do you even bother?

  8. @ #8 Johanna: I think #7 em means he has a holier-than-thou tone that comes across in his writing. I don’t personally agree, but I thought you misunderstood and took it personally. I could be wrong!

    I totally agree with your comment #5, though. The ignoring of comments is absolutely infuriating. It’s like the conversation, which is only beginning when the article is posted, is dead on Trent’s end when he hits *publish*.

  9. @Angie: Yikes, you’re probably right. I thought em was trying to insult my writing ability. em, I’m sorry for misunderstanding you!

  10. I don’t think “negative” is the right word to describe Johanna’s comments — she obviously doesn’t agree with Trent but her comments are thoughtful, well-written, and very accurate. Pointing out Trent’s mistakes or disagreeing with his opinions does not automatically constitute negativity. I love Johanna’s comments and would be sorry to see her stop posting.

    Blogging is not a stage where your followers can simply shower you with accolades. Well, I suppose it can be, but that doesn’t make for very interesting reading. The learning comes from reading about different perspectives and experiences, not from absorbing everything Trent has to say. In fact, I would say that Trent himself could learn a lot from the comments on this blog if he were open to the thoughtful and intelligent messages posted by people from all different viewpoints. I’ll be perfectly frank and say that I think Trent is . . . well, very narrow in his perspective on life. I don’t agree with much of what he says but have learned so much from the community that gathers here.

    The diversity of comments are the life of this blog. Would I come here every day to read only Trent’s writing? Nope, not a chance.

  11. @Johanna, No problems. Upon rereading what I wrote I see where the misunderstanding was. I did mean holier than thou tone. Brain didn’t turn on this morning apparently so I couldn’t figure out the right way I wanted to say it.

    Also, Trents inability to respond to comments will probably be the reason I stop reading his blog someday. It makes the articles he writes that have a holier-then-thou tone even more obnoxious.

  12. @Riki: My other favorite blog, Shakesville, is the opposite of this one in many ways. It’s heavily moderated, and there’s little criticism, and almost no snark, directed against the bloggers. And yet, it still makes for interesting reading. I think there are a couple of main reasons for that:

    First, the posts deal with current events and other things outside the bloggers’ own lives, so the community (bloggers and commenters alike) can direct their snark toward those things, rather than toward each other.

    Second, the posts are incredibly well researched and well thought out, and the bloggers make an effort to learn from the different viewpoints of the commenters. Which means there’s so much more to be learned from the posts than just one person’s thoughts about his own life.

    I like both blogs for different reasons. I agree, though, with the people who say that most of the value here is in the comments.

  13. Johanna, I read (and like) Shakesville too, but I think it has been a tad too heavily moderated lately. I understand that the community doesn’t need to deal with misogynists, rape apologists or idiots that want to “mansplain” but it seems that the mods are so trigger-happy that even well-intentioned commenters fall through the cracks. Most posts are still pretty good reads, though, and it’s true that the authors will acknowledge mistakes and edit whenever needed.

    That’s what bugs me the most about this blog. I, too, find a lot of value in the comments and I really wish Trent would acknowledge his factual mistakes and correct them, after so many people point them out! It feels as if Trent doesn’t even read the comments (he doesn’t need to participate in the comments section per se; we know how well that turned out in the past) but I can’t be 100% sure about that. Frustrating!

  14. @marta: I’ve noticed that too (overmoderation at Shakesville), and while I don’t always agree with every decision the mods make, I understand what they’re trying to do and I’m fine with the setup overall. Liss makes it clear that Shakesville is her space, and she gets to make the rules (and she’s phenomenally good at articulating those rules). And if one of those rules is to think twice about how your well-intentioned comment might be unintentionally hurtful (or otherwise inappropriate), that makes sense to me.

    (Similarly, this is Trent’s space and he has the right to make the rules for it. But for the most part, he’s chosen not to.)

    And if one of the mods is a little bit grumpy because they’re having a bad day (as we all do), I’m inclined to forgive that, because it’s so clear that they all genuinely want to serve the readers, and they work so hard at that. In contrast, Trent’s motivation for writing this blog is all about him and *his* dream of being a writer. So that’s another big difference.

  15. Wow, the insolence one really hit me… not that I would necessarily have used that old-fashioned term, but when explained I have to admit that I totally do that sometimes. It’s like I’m a Janus statue – sometimes I am incredibly humble and modest, and other times I am critical, impatient, and think I know better than anyone else. I find that in my life, many of the people I most respect are the quiet, capable, humble people who don’t speak unless they have something thoughtful to say. Maybe that’s partly that we all wish we were our opposite, but still.

    I thought this statement was especially profound, and would be a good idea if I could manage it: “If you can’t think of anything to say that isn’t critical, ask a question that’s actually a question and not just a (not really) vieled criticism.” I’ve noticed my parents learning to do this in their 70s, using the phrase “tell me more” and then really listening with all their might, and it’s crazy the things that people tell them, things that often have never been shared with anyone ever before. I need to stop thinking I have all the answers, because if I had all the answers, would I feel the compulsion to read self-improvement blogs on a daily basis?? Humility, I need to make your acquaintance even more, and more consistently.

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