I began to write this article in my head as I bounced around the back seat of a car careening down Commonwealth Avenue during rush hour.
“What’s that woman’s problem?” scoffed the young man behind the wheel as I held on for dear life. “Sheesh, learn to drive, lady!” he hollered out the window as our car lurched around the lane.
I had just finished my own one-hour driving lesson (yes, I’m 29 and am just learning to drive now), and the subsequent student was a 16-year old from a fancy suburban high school. As his first assignment in the lesson, our instructor had him drive me home, so I got the chance to see another novice handle a car.
“Why,” I thought to myself as we almost hit a truck, “does this boy think he’s a better driver than everyone else, when he’s no better than me… and I think I stink?” Then I remembered a useful little word from English class: Hubris.
If my tenth grade students are actually doing their February Vacation homework right now (ahem, ahem) they should be playing an online video game I gave them to practice Literary Terms like “allusion,” “theme,” and “onomatopoeia” which will appear on their upcoming MCAS state exam. And, if they are chugging away at this “Space Invaders” game as ordered, they may encounter the wonderful word, “Hubris,” too.
How to define “Hubris” without veering into crude language and the use of words beginning with “b”? Here are some definitions: Cockiness. Thinking you can do anything and are better than everyone. Extreme arrogance. And for you Spanish speakers: Cojones.
Many “Tragic Heroes” in literature, such as Oedipus Rex and Macbeth, have their crashing downfall thanks to their out-of-control Hubris. And this brings us back to teenage boys. Some of the finest examples of Hubristic folks come from the 13-21 year-old male demographic, especially if those males come from the hegemonic White and Wealthy population. Not always… but, for sure, sometimes.
So imagine me, a 29-year-old woman who is terrified to drive, sitting in the back of this vehicle, cursing this cocky teenage boy as he swerves around the road, while he in turn is cursing out everyone he flies past! And it was at this moment I had an epiphany: I can learn from the Hubris of a teenage boy! In fact, I could use a little more Hubris, myself, if I want to be a good driver!
“So my Mom refuses to drive with me any more,” laughed the young man as we skidded in front of a stop light, “because this one time we were driving, and she told me to slow down, and so I slammed on the brakes… except I mixed up the pedals and slammed on the gas instead, and I smashed into my Dad’s parked BMW, and it was totaled!”
I gasped. What?! This boy had made one of the worst mistakes you can make in a car, totaled his father’s fancy ride, terrified his mother… and yet STILL thought he was a better driver than anyone else on the road! If that’s not Hubris, I don’t know what is.
And yet… isn’t it actually a smart reaction in some ways?
I thought back to some of the reasons I have been scared to drive for the past fourteen years. There was a kid in my school who killed someone with his car, and I still can’t stop thinking about how powerful the responsibility of driving is. There was a time I mixed up the gas and brake and jolted forward a little, but didn’t hit anything, but freaked out the people in the car with me. There was a time during one lesson that I almost ran into something.
But… scares like this happen to everyone in the early stages of learning something! I had made all those fearful moments mean: “I’m a bad driver and I’ll never be a good driver and I should never drive.” But that boy in the driver’s seat after me made freaky events like that mean: “I’m still great and nothing will change that. I AM a good driver, world!”
And thus the moral of the story is: in excess, Hubris is a tragic flaw which will bring disaster to the mightiest ruler (or driver). But what I’d forgotten is that lack of Hubris can cripple your life, too! What do you say we all add some arrogance to our actions this week? Report back on the results, Hubris-embracing Heroes… or simply share your own thoughts and experience surrounding Hubris!
Want to see more crazy photos of Cambodia traffic (including a little baby riding a motorcycle while sucking on a bottle)? Click here to read “Closing Thoughts on Leaving Cambodia” and see a bunch more pictures.