A word often used for hubris is ego. Ego, the attribute of focus on and often delight in the self, can be a sign of insecurity as well as of confidence, while hubris, however, is always about self-importance and pride. Either way, hubris and ego are an undesirable focus on the self to the exclusion of the well-being of others: it is the doctrine of the I not the We.
It is rare to find an individual who is without ego, someone who genuinely cares for people or a cause selflessly, without a thought for themselves. Most of us find ourselves from time to time upset by a word or action from a friend, or pleased by a compliment, or wanting the last biscuit on the plate. We may want to be first in the queue or to have the best seat, to prove someone wrong or to have children who are top of their class. These and similar minor examples of ego in human life are everywhere, played out many times a day in many homes, and some of them show hubris too. We are all human, and learning about the power of our ego is a key life learning for humanity. Seeing someone without it is a lesson in humility, for us. It serves to remember that gentle power is the strongest power.
We are so used to seeing ego and its related hubris all around us, often we do not notice it, but sometimes it is so dominant in a person it is unmistakeable. It has been very noticeable in recent times: Donald Trump has been known for his self-confidence all his adult life, but his self-belief has, with his position as President of the USA, taken self-conceit to a new level, whereby he rules by decree like an emperor in a medieval court, and believes he can speak and act without impunity. He is the epitome of hubris.
The greater the hubris, the harder is the fall back to reality from the illusion of greatness. Hubris, and ego, bring their own appropriate repercussions under the Law of Karma. Thus it is that President Trump’s visit to Europe, in which he insulted and threatened world leaders and offended many in his deferential treatment of Putin, has rebounded on him seriously. His fitness for office and understanding of global as well as national priorities and values is being questioned as never before, and he is chastened. The emperor’s clothes have been taken away – by himself, and it may be the grandeur of the vestments of old is never restored.
Theresa May, meanwhile, at one point the target of Trump’s hubris, herself has much to learn still about omnipotence. Failing to learn from an assumption of superiority in her failed general election last year, she presented the Chequers meeting and agreement 2 weeks ago as a triumphant fait accompli, and seemed to believe in her claims of success. It has not taken long for the plan to unravel and for her to be revealed as vulnerable and, now, powerless. It is a hard and public lesson.
It is easy to notice and to judge the hubris, or ego, in other people, and not so easy to see it in ourselves. It serves us to observe what we do and say, and to recognise when the demon of desire taps us on the shoulder. The repercussions of pride are hard, and the fall from personal grace is even harder.