Yes It Is, It’s True: We act like we’re the United States of Hubris

“When some loud braggart tries to put me down, he says his school is great…

Troubling stories2“I tell him right away, now whatsa matter buddy, ain’t you heard of my school, it’s number one the state?”

— The Beach Boys, “Be True to Your School,” 1963

We Americans too often are driven by the toxic personal characteristic of hubris. You want proof? Just go to any athletic event in the United States.

Hubris is defined as “excessive confidence, by conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority; informal big-headedness, cockiness.”

We Americans certainly are a cocky lot, a people who love to beat our chests and tell the world we’re No. 1. Film maker Michael Moore was so impressed with our collective bragging tendencies that he suggested in one of his movies that we change our name from the United States to “The Big One” and change our national anthem to “We Are the Champions,” or its cousin, “We Will Rock You.”

I remember growing up with the proud assertion that the U.S. had never lost a war, and then along came Vietnam and we still haven’t gotten over the trauma of losing. We don’t accept defeat very graciously, we’re not good sports. We have to be top dog. We’re so obsessed with it that after Russia beat us in Olympic basketball in 1988, we helped make sure that would never happen again by opening up the international competition to the “Dream Team” professionals in 1992. Such a move made it hard for me to root for a U.S. bully that has to have its way by assembling the very best pro players since to beat up on the rest of the world.

Our local TV news stations constantly boast about how hard they’re tracking and working and how “we’re all over this story.” Advertising and marketing almost always are all about bragging, not about humility.

The most visible ways we demonstrate the hubris habit are on bumper stickers and T-shirts. Rather than wear neutral shirts or drive cars, trucks or SUVs with no logos or proclamations about ourselves, we seem to think we should walk or drive with a swagger and in our own way tell the whole wide sky, “In your face!”

Some of this hubris involves war and patriotism:

  • Depictions of the American flag with the declarations, “These colors don’t run” or “Try burning this one, asshole!”
  • “Vietnam: If you haven’t been there, keep your mouth shut.”
  • “We should forgive our enemies, but only after they’ve been taken out and shot.”
  • “Some people are still alive only because it’s against the law to kill them.”

Many relate to sports, probably the result of taking Muhammed Ali’s comment, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true,” to its illogical conclusion:

  • “If swimming were easy… it would be called football” and “Real athletes swim — the rest just play games.”
  • “My sport (cross country) is your sport’s punishment.”
  • “You can’t just beat a team, you have to leave a lasting impression in their minds so they never want to see you again.”
  • “No fear.”
  • “Sports break the weak, and expose the strong.”
  • “Soccer: The real sport of football.”
  • “If you can’t run with the big dogs, get off the track.”
  • “I’m not speeding, I’m qualifying!”

On the other hand, the subject of bragging or insults can be about intelligence, or the lack thereof:

  • “Did you eat a bowl of stupid for breakfast?”
  • “I don’t know what makes you dumb, but it really works.”
  • “Stupidity is not a handicap. Park elsewhere!”
  • “I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person.”
  • “If I got smart with you, how would you know?”

But some have a decent sense of humor about it:

  • “I meet or exceed expectations,” a nice dig against No Child Left Behind.
  • “Home school valedictorian,” a nice dig against home schooling.

Some diss education and get back at parents who brag about their special children on bumper stickers:

  • “My kid beat up your honor roll student” a good one for bullies.

Others boast about their ability to attract the opposite sex:

  • Male — “Sorry, ladies, this shirt is staying on.”
  • Female — “This is my body, but I share.”

There are disturbing ones from the world of hunting:

  • “I don’t have a license to kill. I have a learner’s permit.”
  • “Heavily armed. Easily pissed.”
  • “Warning! Survivors will be shot again.”

Don’t forget the most prominent bumper sticker displayed by road rage warriors:

  • “Horn broken, watch for finger!”

Of course, there always have to be some who show their pride in abusing alcohol:

  • “Rehab is for quitters.”
  • “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
  • “There’s too much blood in my alcohol system.”

I’ve seen hostility between product brand names, such as a Calvin (Calvin & Hobbes cartoon) look-alike on a Ford truck taking a whiz with the comment, “Kiss this, Chevy boy!”

Let’s not forget the pervasive testy, in-your-face political commentary:

  • “Nobody died when Clinton lied.”
  • “Damn right I voted for Bush — twice!”
  • “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?”
  • “How’s that drill, baby drill thing workin’ out for ya?”
  • “When you criticize farmers, don’t talk with your mouth full.”
  • “Buck Fush.”

However, there always are the general insults, such as:

  • “You have the right to remain silent, so please shut up.”
  • “Nice face! What are you gonna’ do when the baboon wants his butt back?”
  • “If I had a face like yours, I’d try acid.”

The combination of hubris and belligerence even shows up in religion, with such dandies as:

  • “My God isn’t dead, sorry about yours.”
  • “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned (which means I’m goin’ to heaven and you’re not. Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you).”

That last one prompted an old friend of mine to ask the car owner, “When the rapture comes, can I have your car?”

The dictionary says the opposite of hubris is humility. Jesus said, in Matthew, “Those who are exalted will be humbled. Those who are humble will be exalted.” If what Jesus said was true, we won’t be exalted. We’ll be humbled. And we deserve it.

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