In my last blog, I talked about being proud of yourself and the benefits of having a healthy dose of self-esteem.  Writing on that topic got me thinking about patting yourself on the back to the extreme, otherwise known as hubris. defines hubris as “excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.”

I’m sure you can think of many examples of hubris throughout history, from ancient Greece to American politics in the 21st century. The first one that came to my mind was Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, and his subsequent retreat. Examples in literature and movies are also abundant, including Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, and Cruella de Vil in Disney’s 1996 version of 101 Dalmatians.  Famous athletes have also been brought down by virtue of their excessive self-confidence, like Lance Armstrong and O.J. Simpson.    And of course, let’s not forget what happened to the arrogant hare in Aesop’s classic fable, The Tortoise and The Hare.  As far as prominent politicians and arrogance go, don’t get me started.  After all, this is supposed to be a three minute read!

Needless to say, things don’t usually work out too well when people (or characters) put their own hubris on display.

I wonder why they forget the consequences of being arrogant.  Is it because they’re too arrogant to think that the rules don’t apply to them?  Don’t politicians realize that every campaign promise will be subject to intense scrutiny?  Don’t we all realize that now everything is documented, photographed, videoed, posted, and on the internet forever?

In my optimistic world, I’m going to make the assumption that you, yourself, are not suffering from hubris.  However, you may be close to someone who’s impossibly arrogant.  Regardless of whether that person is a family member, a friend, or a co-worker, there are ways to deal with their obvious character flaw.

First, accept that the self-image of superiority they portray does not mean that, by comparison, you are inferior.  You’re not.

Second, understand that you cannot fix someone else’s hubris.  Instead, try to figure out what’s causing their need to cover up low self-esteem with arrogance.  Have compassion.

Third, set some boundaries in advance of your interaction with these people.  This is where the alarm feature on your phone can come in handy.  Set it in advance, and when the alarm goes off, politely excuse yourself.  And leave.  

Finally, you can always interrupt the tirade with a statement giving them the benefit of the doubt.  “I’m sure you didn’t intend to sound like a know-it-all, but that’s what I’m hearing.”   Then smile.

At the end of the day, it’s always helpful to remember that arrogant people are unhappy people.  They tend to push others away with their unpleasant pride and unrealistic sense of self-importance.  While it’s not our job to offer solutions, nor is it always possible to ostracize them, it’s always an act of kindness to be compassionate.  

And don’t forget to set your alarm.