Hubris; saint or sinner

Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.

Alexander Pope

 In his classic work Odyssey, Homer tells the story of Odysseus the king of Ithaca. Odysseus is portrayed by Homer as a brave and cunning warrior who was awarded the famous armor of Achilles after Achilles’ death. He is credited with proposing the strategy of the Trojan horse that led to the defeat of Troy. After playing a significant role in the defeat of Troy he was overcome with hubris and claimed the defeat of Troy was his handiwork without any help from the gods. Hubris will be a common flaw noticed in the life of this great hero pitting him against the gods who were out to humble him.

Despite being at odds with the gods on account of his pride he continued his journey in hubris and in his encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus son of Poseidon he again let his hubris override his better instincts. During his wanderings he and his men were marooned on an island unknown to them inhabited by a Cyclops. The Cyclops took to killing off his men one after the other. Odysseus , in his cunning got the Cyclops drunk and gouged out his one eye but instead of leaving him in defeat he  taunted (despite his men advising him to the contrary) him , saying ” Cyclops if any man asks how you came about your blindness, say that Odysseus sacker of cities, Laertes’ son a native of Ithaca , maimed you”. This led the enraged Cyclops to pray to his father Poseidon for vengeance.

Throughout the story of Odysseus his pride was a flaw that he couldn’t live without and because of it the gods put many obstacles in his path so as to humble him. Eventually after ten (10) years wandering without reaching home he admitted his incapacity to survive without the gods and so was humbled and was allowed to return home.

But is pride all bad news?

He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride.

John Bunyan

 A little pride is good for the soul; it’s an attribute that is 99% bad and 1% good. In measured doses pride can drive an individual to excel in his chosen field, to attempt the impossible and to become successful. The hubris of Odysseus was deadly , an abundance of pride that sees everybody as inferior and claims a right of supremacy over everybody. That could also be said to be the vice of Icarus who flying on wings made of wax ignored his father’s advice not to fly too close to the sun.  He flew too close to the sun, which melted his wings and he fell to his death.

A lot of us desire success but only a few pursue success and even fewer maintain the course after failure. Those who maintain the course and are eventually celebrated often talk about an innate sense of confidence in their ability to find a way out, if they did not believe that they could, they would have fallen by the wayside like the rest.

Self confidence, the utmost belief in the capacity of the individual to pursue and attain a goal diligently irrespective of the odds, has at its foundation pride. Pride in one’s ability, pride in ones capacity and pride in one’s self.

I know of no case where a man added to his dignity by standing on it.

                                                                                            Attributed to Winston Churchill

Admittedly it is difficult to maintain a balance between deadly hubris and confidence building pride. But that’s where character comes in. Character grounds us and keeps us focused on the journey. Character according to the author John Maxwell is made up of 4 components; self discipline, core values, self identity and integrity. All these come together to give us strong character and if our character is strong then we can maintain the pride balance.

The idea that man is from birth a conceited creature gives us a scope of the work needed to keep pride in check. Pride can be real or imagined it is defined by the next person and not by the person in question. Somebody said that the moment you think you are not conceited you are already manifesting conceit. Pride is so interwoven into the fabric of who we are that it seems almost impossible to live without pride.

Pride is like a perfume. When it is worn,

 it radiates a sense of self the world reacts to.

Stevie Wonder

Pride in  accomplishments in spite of the odds, pride in the journey about to be undertaken in spite of the strain, pride in one’s children that turned out well in the face of contemporary difficulties in raising them  right. There’s so much to be genuinely and respectfully proud of but often times we allow our successes redefine our lives, so because we have recorded some successes we think everybody else is a failure, because we passed an exam others that did not pass like us become dullards.

We acquire a superiority complex that breeds arrogance and deep seated hubris; we learn to separate ourselves from the motley crowd of “underachievers” who are trying to be successful. And being blinded by our overinflated sense of self worth we do not see the trip stone that eventually sends us hurtling down hill, and so the aphorism that pride goes before a fall is absolutely manifested.

There is no one successful man or woman who is not proud of his achievement, but the difference is in the way we allow these successes limit our quest to accomplish more. When we allow hubris overcome us in the successes of today, it makes us to be focused on this one accomplishment , this one plaque we polish it put it on the mantel piece and explain to everybody that passes how we achieved that. We lose sight of tomorrow and get ourselves shackled to today’s awards. So we stop progressing and get lost in the stagnation of present success. We tend therefore to exist in yesterdays pride and forfeit tomorrow’s opportunities. That is why hubris is deadly because it literally kills talent and innovation; it kills a teachable spirit and makes an individual a god unto himself.

The pride that sustains is what you see in your fathers’ eyes when you tell him how you stared down a bully in school or how you defended your principles to your peers when they were persuading you to go against what you were taught was good behavior.

I am proud but I try to control it the best I can by remembering my failures when it seems my victories are overwhelming, when I seem lost in triumph I try to remind myself that I have failed a thousand times for this one success. Is it easy , absolutely not. I have been lost to deadly hubris a couple of times but losing doesn’t keep me from trying once again to find the virtue in hubris.


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