Mbabane, Swaziland | 12 November 2014
What’s the difference between confidence and arrogance? Is one better than the other? Is it possible to be both confident and arrogant at the same time? Do these questions even matter?
Who better to address these questions than Cristiano Ronaldo, the 29-year-old Portuguese footballer who continues to shine for his Spanish team Real Madrid.
Last week Ronaldo picked up his third Golden Boot award for scoring the most goals in Europe’s domestic leagues in the past season.
At a lavish ceremony in Madrid, reported news agency AFP, Ronaldo said “I always want to be the best, that is what I work towards every day”.
That seems reasonable enough for an acceptance speech: confident yet humble.
“I respect what people think and I am making my own story bit by bit.”
Still on the humble side of things.
“I still have a long way to go and when I finish my career I can look at my stats to see if I am among the best in history.”
Now, maybe the superstar striker had had a glass of champagne or two in celebration – and no-one would condemn him for that – but perhaps he should have stopped at that previous sentence.
In his next six words, in a slightly less humble tone, he goes on to answer his own speculation.
“I am sure I will be.”
There it is. Cristiano Ronaldo believes he will be remembered as one of the best players ever pull on the boots.
In just six words Ronaldo slipped from humble and confident into confident and arrogant.
I waited for my indignation to rise up, my annoyance, my jealously of this arrogant superstar footballer. But these emotions never arrived (apart from a tiny bit of jealousy).
But I didn’t really mind that he was arrogant because truth is on his side.
(Arrogance without merit, on the other hand, or arrogance coupled with dishonesty and incompetence, is a whole different ball game. And these days you need not look far to spot it.)
There is no doubt that history will judge Ronaldo as one of the best players ever.
In this case, then, Ronaldo can indeed be confident and arrogant – much as good musicians are when in full flight.
I can of course still think of him as a bit of a wanker – a very rich and successful wanker.
But my point is that very rarely is it a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Very rarely is it either/or.
Either confident or arrogant. More often than not, it’s a bit of both.
“Shades of grey are not easy to articulate,” said author Richard Stengel in his book about Nelson Mandela.
“Black-and-white is seductive because it is simple and absolute. It appears clear and decisive.
“Because of that, we will often gravitate toward yes or no answers when a ‘both’ or a ‘maybe’ is closer to the truth.”
Stengel continues: “Some people will choose a categorical yes or no simply because they think it appears strong. But if we cultivate the habit of considering both – or several – sides of a question, as Mandela did, of holding both good and bad in our minds, we may see solutions that would not otherwise have occurred to us.”
Coming back to sport, which so often illustrates rich metaphors for life, we should also honour Uruguayan footballer-cum-vampire Luis Suarez, who shared the Golden Boot award with Ronaldo.
However Suarez, known for his sweet tooth, mistook the Golden Boot award for a chocolate treat and bit into it, causing further damage to his already troubled gums.
This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland on November 2014