One of the many appealing aspects of your friendship with Elaina is the opportunity to engage in lively philosophical discussions. Last night she asked about your next-door neighbor who, despite a stellar attendance record and grade point average, was dismissed from graduate school, partly for speaking out against hate speech in class. (That story came up in an October letter.) The neighbor had also questioned the quality of the program itself and lobbied for improvements, if not for herself then for grad students to follow. She ended up paying a steep price for her efforts. As the Japanese saying goes, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
Elaina observed that such is the paradox of people with fixer personalities. One makes enemies when one questions a system in place, for it takes arrogance to suggest the system wants improving. Stakeholders will rush to protect their terrain; they’ll fight like cornered badgers, refusing to concede, even when fixers may have a good point. As a fixer personality, you declared you’d have responded quite the same as your neighbor.
“Was it worth it?” wondered Elaina, a self-admitted fence-sitter. “She lost 18 months of hard work. A new degree will take her three more years to complete.”
Which is a practical and reasonable way of assessing these weeks of emotional strife.
Back at your end of the internet, though, you squinted at this idea of the arrogance of fixers. Are you arrogant? Perhaps. Does that mean you are wrong? Respectfully, no. You’ve sparked a lifetime of confrontations ranging from petty to serious; you acknowledge your talent for polarizing others. Your tendency to speak out sometimes results in outcomes that don’t favor your cause, but you’ve decided you can live with collateral damage. Speaking out is your nature. You’ve embraced it as part of your authentic self.
Still, Elaina’s observation gave you pause. Perhaps at the core of your nature lies the sin of arrogance. You’d never considered this before, so you looked up the word. Arrogance, from Merriam-Webster: “an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people.”
Your first thought on reading this definition ran like this: “someone needs to cut the second ‘that.’” Herein lies the problem. You don’t just believe you’re a better editor than the online editor at Merriam-Webster, you know you are. You don’t mean to insult that person, but face it—they made a mistake. Mistakes need correction. You hereby correct the editors of Merriam-Webster!
And so goes a typical unraveling of Colleen’s best intentions.
Very well, Elaina. (Smugless head-shaking duly noted.)
Without arrogance, however, the status quo would never change, and let’s face it the status quo doesn’t always deserve prolongation. White people hated Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his arrogance. Susan B. Anthony had the gall to demand suffrage for women. Wasn’t Jesus arrogant for setting out to save the souls of mankind? While you by no means class yourself in the category of such luminaries as these, you view them as fellow fixers: people willing to step into the breach when matters warrant correction. The insult, you contend, springs from the mind of those who blindly oppose change. Fixers disparage the systems they fight only because they envision a better way for all. At heart, they tend to think big and mean well.
Fixers draw enemies like excrement draws flies, yet both are natural and necessary functions in life. Not everyone can stomach the style of a fixer. Many prefer to stand back from the fray or sit on their fences. Some fight like cornered badgers, doing everything they can to quell the arrogant voice.
You’re a fixer and, ironically, that’s one thing about you which cannot be fixed. Never mind your intentions, fixers will always come across as arrogant, hence they polarize the people around them. You see no other way. You are the same person who at age sixteen chased down an adult shoplifter to snatch back the item he’d stolen. You’re the same person who returned to Jo-Ann Fabrics to pay for a costume the clerk had failed to ring up. And if you saw an injustice out on the street you would shout like hell to raise awareness, damn the consequences.
Otherwise you’d feel as if you were in a moral chokehold. Otherwise you would not be able to breathe. You would not be you, and that’s the plain truth.