Friday, November 16, 2012

Facing Hubris

Hu-bris: 1. PRIDE excessive pride or arrogance 2. EXCESSIVE AMBITION the excessive pride and ambition that usually leads to the downfall of a hero in classical tragedy.

It was only in the last few years that I began to use the word hubris. Its current popularity is evidence that hubris may have risen to an epidemic level in recent years.

In recent days the national media has been in a frenzy about a particular military professional and former CIA director who was discovered to be involved in some type of indiscretion. Revelation of details relating to the matter have expanded to involve another high-ranking military general along with several other individuals. The entire episode appears to be quite complicated.

None of this should come as a complete surprise. Hubris is now out of control.

Having lived in various corners of the country and worked at several jobs over the years, I have direct knowledge of several cases of hubris. I can only imagine how many other cases of similar behavior have occurred. These are stories to be shared in the break room but do not warrant media coverage. There must be countless examples floating around out there, let alone the stories that make the headlines.

Any analysis of hubris must include scam artists. These are people who offer to install vinyl siding or repair a driveway, asking for money in advance. Of course, they disappear along with your money. Other scams include fund raisers for people who aren't actually sick. How about email scams which outline details of how a significant amount of the writer's money is frozen in a foreign bank? Upon receipt of your bank information or social security number, a large percentage of the sequestered money will be yours.

There are military veterans with storied records who never actually served in the military. Writers with highly-regarded educations who never attended the colleges identified on their resumes. Some people have reportedly impersonated medical professionals without bothering to be licensed.

This week I read a story of a comptroller in a small Midwestern town who pleaded guilty to embezzling $53 million from the city's accounts which allowed her to live lavishly while she continued to handle the town's finances. She will likely go to prison.

In my own experience, I know first-hand of several cases of hubris. One staff worker with a master key and access to offices was arrested for removing personal items from locked offices. Another person with similar access in a different setting took blank checks from Accounting, ran them through the check protector and then cashed them.   This does not even include the so-called "dalliances" which occur frequently in the workplace. Some such relationships are conducted with comparative discretion. Others are not.

Public examples of big-time hubris include famous athletes who may choose to use performance-enhancing aids, then vow to the press -- or even to Congress -- that they did not. They must believe themselves to be above the rules.

Some of these examples date from years ago, before cell phones had cameras and Facebook exposure was widespread. It's amazing to find that anyone -- like a former U.S. Senator -- would post compromising photos of themselves on Facebook without knowing that potentially millions of folks can see them. Stories of such poor judgment are rampant. "I didn't intend for everyone to see them" is a line often quoted in connection with such stories.

Poor judgment. At one time or another, most of us have displayed poor judgment. Telling a friend how much you dislike his/her current partner by saying "I'm glad you got rid of him/her. You deserve better." Then when the couple inevitably reunites, you have one less friend. Poor judgment.

However, displays of hubris are often headline grabbers. Reading about such events, it's natural to ask "What was the person thinking?"

Best to keep a watchful eye for our own lapse of good judgment to avoid making headlines. Hubris may be lurking around the next corner.





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