The error of hubris

Humility is a golden virtue.

Seeing beyond appearances the essence of all things in the universe can be found.

Most religions warn against hubris.

One thing I admire about Socrates was his humility, he concluded that one thing he knew was he knew nothing.  Socrates ideas, and his Socratic Method, was legendary in revealing the flaws of any position claimed to be an absolute truth.  In the end Socrates annoyed so many people that he was executed.  Those individuals who use the Socratic Method can be utterly annoying.

The opposite of humility is hubris.  In the religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam hubris (pride) is considered the ultimate deadly sin.  The modern definition of hubris is along the lines of pride goes before a fall.  It is also said that pride blinds, for the one in the grip of hubris is so blinded by their pride they are no longer in touch with reality thus they fail to see the error that would lead them and those that followed them to their destruction.

Hubris was the cause of the First World War.  Decision makers blinded by the hubris of their ideals and power entered into a war all thought would be over before Christmas and ended with millions dead, five empires destroyed.  Hubris caused the “winners” to indulge in the ancient Greek definition of hubris the pleasure of inflicting humiliation upon an entire German people far beyond their means to cope, thus the suffering caused paved the way for Hitler to emerge.  Hitler was inflicted with his own hubris taking himself and the German people to eventual destruction in the Second World War where millions more died.

When one is humble one allows room for alternative possibilities, that self could be wrong.  Imagination flows so that self can see and be receptive to new ideas, new pieces of information, in touch with reality.  Hubris blinds so that imagination is shut down, it can only see what it wants to see, rather than what is.  Empathy that is the child of imagination is eliminated by hubris so that friendship, sensitivity and love is replaced by cruelty, hate and coldness.  The worst depravities of humanity follows in the shadow of hubris.  Once a group gets it in their head they or their belief is the truth they then will enforce their hubris through tyranny and violence against anything or anyone counter to their truth.

I recognise the error of hubris as being one of the great enemies of humanity and this planet.  I hold that it is a golden virtue to be humble as a counter to hubris.


11 responses to “The error of hubris

  1. Our nature is to be humble until we allow our ego to dictate our actions. Then the balance of nature is tipped.

  2. Decision makers often loose their way, because they operate in isolation. Either they stop asking for feedback or the people around them start giving feedback. This lack of communication is a fertile ground for hubris. Giving and receiving feedback is so important to remain humble.

    • Well observed. Yes, this can be observed even in large corporates, the upper management lose touch with their own work force causing so many problems between management and worker.

  3. ” In the religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam hubris (pride) is considered the ultimate deadly sin.”
    Wait, do you mean those religions that also say all non-believers, witches, gays and random goats should be thrown into burning pits and be killed?
    But in general you’re right about pride.

  4. Great piece, Alex. Society is designed to induce ego and hubris in us, raising our expectations and creating perpetual fear and desire satiated by delusional consumption and superficiality. Young generations feel they deserve more than the mediocre docility expected of society, and by all means, they do – we all do and there is potential. As the world evolves I believe humility is rising, and agree it is one of the most important traits to harmony, but I also sense an air of hubris masked as humility like companies greenwash. So much to think about, and better yet, so much to do. This is one of my favorite quotes:
    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubt” – Bertrand Russel

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