Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Self-Importance and Modesty

Of all the qualities and traits I find odious and hard to stomach--both in myself and others--self-importance is at the top of the list. Awhile back, someone asked for a blog post on this general topic, and last night I remembered why I should get around to it.

I was watching a great documentary on Netflix about Myanmar. Except I couldn’t really focus on the history of the people, the country, or their political struggles, because the narrator was an insufferable egomaniac of a professor from Cornell who took every opportunity to show his face on TV and talk about his courses; tell us what a genius he was; how far and where he had traveled; what he was doing there; whom he met; what a great honor it was that the State Department had sent HIM to Myanmar to film a documentary, and so on and so forth. Painful.

The same thing happened with Chasing Ice, a pretty cool and relevant-to-Alaska documentary about melting glaciers. But again, I couldn’t focus on global warming or melting glaciers, because the main character/narrator/subject of the documentary (who I'm sure several of my glacier scientist friends know personally, sorry?) kept crying (literally, as I recall); talking about how amazing his work was; and telling everyone that his knee hurt.

Perhaps it’s merely an accident of film-making that these two men came off as self-important as they did, but it was an accident that nevertheless detracted significantly from my enjoyment of these movies.

Years ago (and here there is no documentary-angle excuse), opposing counsel in a case told me he was too busy to talk to me because he was getting ready to file a brief in the Alaska SUPREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEME Court. Like, he quite obviously really, REALLY wanted me to know that it was a SUPREEEEEEEEEEEME Court brief he was poised to file. 

I told him that’s fine, but silently wondered whether he was aware that the Alaska Supreme Court takes appeals as of right, including from self-represented litigants who tend to use bold and underline and exclamation points on every page of their briefs, and that there is actually nothing special about him (in particular as opposed to anyone else) filing a brief in the SUPREEEEEEEEEEEEME Court?

On the flip-side, modesty is highly under-rated. I know a few elite athletes and extremely accomplished people who never seem to need to let the world know it, and who rely on people like me to embarrass them. I am intentionally not mentioning them by name, however, because I try not to do that, and also they are very modest. You know who you are though, and I love your modesty. Even more than I love Myanmar, glaciers, and bombastic lawyers.

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