Monday, January 31, 2022

Back to the Garden: A Reflection on Hubris


Back to the Garden (c) 2013

"We are stardust; we are golden -- and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden..." 

-- Joni Mitchell, "Woodstock"

Sometimes "getting it out" of one's system by writing in one's journal isn't enough, so I thought I'd share these thoughts with you, Gentle Readers.

I've been increasingly troubled by the hubris rising in our Western culture in the last several years.  What is "hubris"?  The Oxford Learner's Dictionaries defines it as "being too proud"; the Oxford Classical Dictionary gives a bit more background, including: 

Hubris, intentionally dishonouring behaviour, was a powerful term of moral condemnation in ancient Greece; and in Athens, and perhaps elsewhere, it was also treated as a serious crime.


The best ancient discussion of hubris is found in *Aristotle's Rhetoric: his definition is that hubris is ‘doing and saying things at which the victim incurs shame, not in order that one may achieve anything other than what is done, but simply to get pleasure from it.


The cause of the pleasure for those committing hubris is that by harming people, they think themselves superior;

Hubris has always been with us; it's what resulted in Adam and Eve's being tossed out of The Garden by God.  Whether or not one takes the Bible literally, "The Fall" is a tale of testing humanity's humility.  The Tempter uses the thought of "freedom" to do what one wants whenever one wants to do it, the lure of the pleasure of self-will, the heady feeling of being powerful, to entice the humans to intentionally dishonour God and go their own way.

Whether or not one accepts the presence of a higher power or a divine intelligence or a Creator or The Rule of Law to ensure civil seems to me that of late... 

  • In the flouting of public health measures in the name of "freedom";
  • In the passing of laws in some places to control who gets to vote for those entrusted with government;
  • In the threats of invasion of one sovereign nation by its neighbour in the guise of "security" in the neighbourhood;
  • In the lying, cheating, stealing or simple showing off of the very wealthy in some places, to see what they can get away with;
  • In the bullying of health care employees on their way to work or coming off shift;
  • In the descration of public property and the threatening of other humans in the guise of "protest"; and/or
  • In the blocking of traffic such that others are unable to get to medical appointments or hospitals in the "cause" of "freedom"...
It seems that some folks' propensity for temper tantrums because they're not "getting what they want when they want it", others' lust for power at the expense of those who are "other" (in race or gender or both), and those who may be less powerful or wealthy or educated -- it seems to me that this attitude of hubris is dominant in Western culture these days.

Some (many?) will blame social media for spreading this attitude, but as I said before, it's as old as Adam and Eve; or Cain and Abel; or Jacob and Esau; or David and Uriah the Hittite; or Herod and the Innocents; or Judas Iscariot and Jesus; or Romeo and Tibalt, or MacBeth and Duncan; or the proponents of apartheid in South Africa; or slave owners anywhere, anytime; or Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin or Putin; or those who believe their race/gender is supreme and no others are truly human; and/or any of the current grifters and power-seekers on the world stage today (they know who they are and they're not reading about hubris.)

Yes, the Tempter spreads this attitude more quickly these days because the Tempter knows how to use social media as well as the rest of us.  That doesn't make it acceptable, but it does make it more challenging to curb.  

And the challenge falls to those who don't want to behave that way.  Those who seek to wield power humanely, conscientiously, carefully, with integrity.  Those who understand what service to others means, and seek to practice it not only with their lips but in their lives.  

Fred Rogers called these folks "the helpers", the ones his mother told him to look for in times of trouble.  Others refer to these folks as those who "call on their better angels" when push comes to shove, and tough decisions have to be made that don't make them the focus of attention, power, wealth or influence.

It seems that now, more than ever, those who want to do good in the world with no thought of "pay back", those who don't believe in freedom at the expense of others' health, livelihood or very lives, those who want to 'do the right thing', to 'love their neighbours as themselves' -- those folks are being bullied, threatened, and disparaged as being too "nice", or "libs" (as in 'liberals') or "socialists".  The bullies refuse civil discourse, and refuse to hear about anything that would threaten their right to "freedom" to do and have what they want when they want it -- and they want it NOW.

Personal "freedom", personal "choice" at the expense of humanity, whether in their homes, their neighbourhoods, their regions, their countries or the globe as a whole.

It's exhausting to watch; it's exhausting to try to counter-act that attitude.  It's exhausting to go about every day trying to live in the midst of bullies, liars, cheats, sloths, and self-focused beings...but those who are called to live otherwise must continue to try, because to fall into hubris...well...that way, there be dragons.

After all...

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

-- Mark 8:36 (New International Version) 

It's a long and winding road back to The Garden.


Kate said...

Thank you. Tha is a much nicer word than what I have been thinking about the poorly behaved guests that have come to my home.
I'll just be over here hiding and knitting.

Lori said...

🤗 hugs.