The Arrogance of Belonging

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 9.37.01 PMI just finished listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, for the second time. It’s been a few months since I first listened to it and when I started it again, I thought: Why did I wait so long to listen to this book again?

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear has now joined the ranks of craft books I will read and recommend over and over again. It’s right up there with Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

One of the topics covered in Big Magic is the idea of personal entitlement. Ms. Gilbert speaks of this as a positive attribute, rather than a negative attribute. She says we need to know we have the right to at least try to be creative.

Ms. Gilbert goes on to talk about “the arrogance of belonging,” a phrase she borrowed from the poet David Whyte, who claims that it “is an absolutely vital privilege to cultivate if you wish to interact more vividly with life.”

Ms. Gilbert states the arrogance of belonging is not about egotism or self-absorption, but it’s opposite; “it is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself.” She states the arrogance of belonging takes us out of our self-doubt and self-protection. It is only when we are not so self-involved that we can begin to be creative.

After reading this part of Big Magic, I realized I was most creative with the people I love the most, the ones with whom I know I belong. These days I’m always making up stories and performing little scenes for my son with his Lego mini-figures or his morning Gummi vitamins. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how I look to him or if he thinks the scene I created is any good. All I’m thinking about is what would be fun to say or do next.

I once wrote a sonnet about cheese curls. That was for someone I didn’t worry about, either.

I also write some really funny emails, if I do say so myself. Usually to my twin sister—they are silly and often involve talking kitchenware, but I don’t worry what she’s going to think. I assume she’ll think they’re funny because I think they’re funny. There’s that arrogance of belonging Ms. Gilbert wrote about.

The trick, I think, is to try to expand that arrogance of belonging beyond our friends and family, to the audience we are trying to reach. I so often stifle myself as a writer because I’m so concerned I will come off sounding stupid or clichéd.

But writing nothing helps no one and I would like to help people with my writing. And if I can become a little less self-absorbed, a little less worried about what others might think of me, I might be able to create something really interesting—and helpful, too.

Do you have the arrogance of belonging you need to write creatively?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, family physician, and life coach.

16 thoughts on “The Arrogance of Belonging

  1. Well, yeah. The bane of any actual/true creative act is to be thinking about beforehand what anyone else will think of you/your work. Seeking to please others is tantamount to seeking to appeasing one’s inner critic. Banish both from your castle. Really, the only thing that matters is the sound in your own ear. This is what leads to funny emails, Cheez-Doodle sonnets, and the like. Like-minded jesters beget like-minded courtyards filled with like-minded fools, villains, common folk mulling about, and royalty entertained a-high—an endless circus of earnest self-amusement which can, in fact, satisfy the demi-urges of ‘negative capability’ we all, somewhere in us, possess and, during the best of times are possessed by.

  2. Pingback: The Yummy Arrogance of Belonging | waywardspirit

  3. I’m starting to feel a little bit of that “arrogance of belonging” with my (admittedly small) group of blog readers. I have a few readers who I especially feel I’m writing to and for, and that helps me to write and share more freely. I really must get this book! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I started reading this because I just wrote about rejection.. Hhmmm. You surprised me with the angle you took. I agree! It goes so much deeper though. I wonder if we took this to another level if it would help with depression, rejection and a host of other..(I don’t feel loved) issues. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Diane!
    This is one of my favorite books, too–I’m so grateful to have listened to it–also at least twice! The last time was right before I started the Blogging A to Z Challenge at the beginning of this month. I think I was subconsciously looking for a pep talk, and I got it! The part that spoke to me was on Fear: namely the fear that nothing I say/write will be of value, that someone else has already said/written it, and better than I could ever do. The distinction she makes is simply that *I* have not written it, and that should be enough for me to try. I honestly think that had I not heard her encouragement and validation through that whole book, the experience, results, and outcome of this challenge would look very different and much worse for me. Thank you for also writing about how her work affects you–it’s always so nice to find fellow tribe members! 🙂

  6. I’m currently working on a travel narrative and often find myself doubting my right to my own observances and opinions, as though all the other people who have visited the area have more right, have observed better than I. I’ll now remind myself to have the arrogance to belong!

  7. Thank you for sharing this! I think it’s so important to feel comfortable with yourself and with your audience. I think that it’s my arrogance of belonging that allows me to feel free to write in my voice. I tread the line between wanting to present my semi-academic side but also use the colloquial language of my time in order to get my message across, and I think that having the expectation that my readers will understand me has helped quell my fears when submitting a post.

  8. I can certainly sympatize with feelings of inadequacy when writing for my audience (usually academics in a very specialized field). I wonder if the arrogance of belonging (whose opposite I suppose is the dreaded “impostor’s syndrome”) would also translate for academic writing in a similar way. It is difficult as a postgrad student, and as someone who has been in her field for only a short while, to find a way to feel comfortable writing for an academic audience without worrying if my research and writing are up to high standards. In my blog I try to document the process of doing my PhD, but sometimes struggle with conveying my excitement for my subject because I worry too much about revealing information that is best revealed in a thesis (will people steal my ideas, for example?), making any statements that could be erroneous or easily disproved, or whether a no0n-academic audience will understand what I am talking about. Any advice is welcomed!

  9. I just went through a Hamlet-like “what-to-write or not-to-write” phase, and I think this angle on worrying about readers’ preferences will turn out to be helpful. I’ve had Big Magic on my wish list for a while, so thanks for nudging 🙂

  10. Pingback: The Arrogance of Belonging | The Soul of A Woman

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