Hubris and Humility

Humility.hubris n : exaggerated pride or self-confidence often resulting in retribution

A well-known proverb says that pride goes before a fall. Perhaps the proverb was thinking of the problem of hubris, that is, an inflated sense of self that results in punishment. Why? Hubris seems to have, at least in one of its aims, the goal of belittling others. It’s also entirely false, meaning that a person with the problem of hubris might take on a project for which he or she is not ready. It is, after all, an “exaggerated” sense of self. It is not a correct reflection upon one’s character and abilities.

Hubris belittles others

Hubris may not start at the point of belittling others, but it ends up there because it is a “look at me, look at me” mentality. It cuts other people out of the conversation. It takes credit where it isn’t due or at least isn’t due in full. It mocks the attempts other people make and says that it could do the work ten times better and in half the time. It boasts; it jeers; it stomps and crushes everything around it. It is not kind. It is not helpful. The hubristic man or woman is a person with few if any friends. No one wants to be around such a person. No one wants to be told, “This is the way I am. Deal with it.” No one wants to be the butt of jokes time and time again.

Hubris creates a false identity

Hubristic people often are charismatic and can weave a believable tale about themselves. Unfortunately, that’s all it is – a tale. They are not the things they purport to be. They cannot do the work ten times better than anyone else and in half the time. They might not even be able to do the work; hubris can cause people to say they can do things that is impossible for them. They don’t have the background or the experience, nor can they possibly learn the necessary skills prior to the deadline. In such scenarios, hubristic people may attempt to avoid a fall. They will wheel and deal and play nice with people to complete the project. When the project is completed – more or less successfully – hubristic people forget the ones who helped them and take whatever credit they can claim.

Hubris finds a cure

Hubris can be cured through a fall, and a fall sometimes is the only thing that will awaken a person trapped inside an inflated sense of self. Some hubristic people, though, still have a bit of conscience. Their spirits are pricked when a co-worker, a friend, or a family member says something. Such people address the issue. They look at themselves in the mirror until they begin to see what they truly look like. They won’t like that reflection, but they will continue to look until they see all the deformities and unkindnesses. They keep that reflection in mind as they go about their days. They stop acting in accordance with it. They want their reflection to change, so they do what they must do: they humble themselves. They let go of their senses of pride and selves. They begin to act in ways that win affection and followers. They become not what they had wanted to be; oh, no, they become much more than that. They become what they had never ever dared dreamed to be, and they become that because they choose humility over hubris.

Thanks go to Greg Sanker for the word challenge. Do you want to play? Let me know in a comment or on Twitter.

Image: BK (CC BY NC 2.0)


  1. Erin!
     This is nothing short of brilliant.
     You hooked us at the beginning; where are you taking me? Gently introduced me to your core thought. I found myself agreeing that Hubris is bad, and ‘they’ shouldn’t be like that. Naturally, I’m good. I’m not like that. Then you lead me to the mirror and helped me to see that somewhere, perhaps deep inside me…. *I* may be hubristic, and that’s not pretty. But before I turn you away because you offend me, you offer me redemption. The path of humility. 
    This post, like all good writing, will stay with me forever. Haunt me. Challenge me. A reminder that hubris comes from within, and I must look in the mirror and remind myself of what I am.

  2. gtsanker I saw a pin on Pinterest yesterday that said we cease to be afraid of monsters under the bed when we realize that the monsters are inside us. We all have that dual nature – the beast and the beauty.
    I also think having a few close friends who keep us accountable is important. They tell us when we start to become monstrous.
    Thank you again for the word challenge. I wasn’t sure where it would go, but it went to a good place.