Hubris: 1. pride or arrogance 2. (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin.

I haven’t known what hubris means for very long. I haven’t know anything for long considering I’m 16.

I came across the idea of hubris in great stories, commonly featuring as the downfall of a great king or the flaw of the relatable protagonist. Having just read Antigone, one of the great Theban plays, for background research as I am to play Ismene, I found myself pondering Hubris more and more. The final lines of Antigone (in my English translation) are spoken by the chorus in the wake of the tragic deaths and Creon’s understanding of his downfall. They say:

“The mighty words of the proud are paid in full/ with the mighty blows of fate, and at long last/ those blows will teach us wisdom.”

At first I simply marveled at the eloquence of this phrase, and the relevance of it in context to this and other great stories. You merely need to google hubris to see how commonly it is used by playwrights and authors as a catalyst for their plot lines (if you’re particularly scholarly you should know, if not, google it and see what I mean), I will not pretend to know all the stories backwards after all I’m 16 and haven’t quite had enough years (or intelligence) to conquer all the hubristic characters in literary history but example you would know are Macbeth and King Creon. Anyway, I dismissed hubris as an excellent lesson but almost irrelevant today, until (drum roll) I read a quote from Aristotle’s ‘Rhetoric’ that states:

Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people”.

And? You think. Isn’t that simply the definition of hubris? Well yes, but this phrasing (Aristotle is sooo quotable) made me realise the prevalence of hubris in society. I see it everyday. I am a part of it everyday. I get annoyed by it everyday. Society simply labels it differently now. I have realised (sorry if this is obvious to you, but everyone has to realise at some point!) that I have told girlfriends that I don’t like someone because they’re ‘a dick’ or ‘a massive bellend’ (excuse my language) which is me identifying hubris, furthermore I am disgusted by it. More and more I have noticed it in others and more shockingly, myself. Every niggling thought someone’s ‘an idiot’ or ‘a bad person’ is me demonstrating this hubristic nature that lays dormant in myself, suppressed only my manners and morals.

So I begin to think more about the fate of hubristic characters. Unfortunately they don’t offer much release as the only ways authors suggest you can rid yourself of these imbedded feelings of superiority is to suffer great loss or tragedy, to fall from power or be pushed from it by another. (Practically have the carpet pulled out from under you.) This makes for great stories of self discovery, (just read any superhero origins comic) but isn’t particularly appealing or realistic for the average Joe. Instead I began wonder if there is any way to teach humility without great pain or suffering (which would be far more desirable).

This whole concept has led to a huge change of perspective on how I view my life, I realise those whom I am drawn to have a great sense of humility. I now recognise it in my idols and my peers, noticing how it threads itself through all society, and also how rare it is. A great example is the actor Tom Hiddleston, of whom I am a great admirer. Recently in a interview he stated:

Why would anyone think they are better than anyone else? I just, that blows my mind, really. Like, I am no better or worse than anyone in this room. And, um, that’s it really.”

The sheer honesty and complete humility of this amazes me, he says it with no sense of an ulterior motive to appear humble and likeable, instead with just a sense of bafflement at the hubris of other people. And I wonder how he was taught humility, was it something he was born with? Are we born with hubris as a part of our nature and the odd person, like Mr. Hiddleston, is luckily exempt? I refuse to believe that on the basis that I think anyone can be truly good if they understand that they must always remember that they could improve, and make the effort to do so. Which is a big ask, but it can be done. Therefore I wonder how his character was shaped this way, for more people like this would lead to a far calmer, less vindictive society. Who knows? He did study Classics at Cambridge so maybe he came to the same conclusion as I did after reading Sophocles.

Perhaps we can only attempt to develop humility in ourselves and retrospectively understand the journey. Maybe one shouldn’t ponder it but practice it, for example take up a mantra like my personal one:

“One must constantly try to better oneself in the subject of happiness and all other thing” (or something less pretentious but along those lines).

Personally I wish this message was taught in schools, since I particularly think it would help a lot of the people my age, having been coined ‘the worst generation ever’ on more than one occasion. However one must be aware that it is not right to teach self-hatred, which my motto can easily be disguised as. We must remember to recognise our strengths but also admit our weaknesses. However I have come to realise I am only touching on a great mystery that has been thought about for a long time, maybe it is my naivety as a child that allows me to question how we teach humility, modesty and respect as if it is a fresh issue. 

This question is far bigger than me, but is something I will continually attempt to conquer in my own life. Maybe for now we should just take a leaf out of Tom’s book and truly realise that you are no better than anyone else, and maybe, just maybe, that might help.