Monday, August 16, 2010

Antidotes to hubris...for paddlers, runners, and just about everybody else.

Friend, Jill, over at Sun-hammered, got me thinking about the nature of hubris in her August 12th posting. I had her words in mind when we paddled out around Entrance Island for a second time a couple of days ago. It's hubris, that overestimation of one's own abilities, that gets paddlers and runners, in trouble every so often. Fact is, it gets more than paddlers and runners in trouble.

On this occasion, the surface of the ocean was much calmer and reflected only the residual energy of the passing vessels. There was a stillness in the air that was almost eerie. The sky was an unbroken blue. The visible arc of the horizon reminded us that we were paddling on the liquid surface layer of a globe. Indeed, we were at the point where two oceans meet, the propelling paddle blade connecting with the ocean below, and the up-stroke with the "ocean" of air above. Below us, all life swims or crawls on the sea floor, or is moved by the currents and tides. Above us, all life must find some way to maintain "lift" or be be transported by "currents" not unlike the ones below us. In the stillness, we felt very alone on the water, and very, very small. That feeling in itself, was an effective antidote to any temptation to hubris.

Hubris gets us all in a lot of trouble. Somehow, I have a sense that we are the only species of life on the planet that is known for being arrogant. Sure, a grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) can push its 550+ kilograms of weight around, but then so can a mosquito at a mere 2.5 milligrams. Neither are arrogant, however. It is highly unlikely that bears or mosquitoes indulge in any wildly exaggerated sense of their own self-worth, often at the expense of others - as we humans have a tendency to do. Grizzlies and mosquitoes just do what they have to do to get along in life and sure, that may result in scaring the daylights out of us or driving us crazy.

(Small aside: Many years ago when I was a university student, working for CP Rail, in the wilds of Roger's Pass for the summer, I found myself between a bear and her two cubs. Thankfully, I was also within a few feet of a railroad car, parked in a siding. I quickly, and with an "athleticism" that I found quite astonishing, climbed an end ladder and waited on the top of the car until my foreman arrived. By that time, of course, the bears had gone.  So with no real evidence of the bears to back up my story, foreman Fraser just rolled his eyes at the sight of his long-haired, bearded, charge sitting cross-legged on the roof of a railway car. I can say, however, that despite being seriously frightened, I felt the mother bear had every reason to "push her weight around". It was simply an act of responsible parenthood. Hmm, well I may not have thought EXACTLY that at the time.)

Anyway, bears and mosquitoes and other species of life on the planet do their part to "fit in" and they understand, at least at some level, that the "web of life" must experience and enjoy an equilibrium. Not so for humankind, it would seem. Heck, we drive 500 horsepower Hummers that never leave the urban asphalt - which would be amusing if it wasn't such a rather sad display of hubris. We drill holes in the earth's crust, deep beneath the sea, and seem surprised that things don't always go according to plan. We debate for years (and years and years and years) whether or not we should pipe raw sewage into the sea without any apparent concern for the rest of nature and the fact that she can no longer tolerate our indulgences. The list goes on and on...

It's easy to reflect hubris in our coming and goings. After all, we're way up there at the top of the food chain. We're a pretty sophisticated species. We've been to the moon and back and, heck, that was the "old days" now. But hubris gets us in trouble, with the environment and with each other.

Some antidotes to hubris? Well, I think it all boils down to getting some perspective in life. Paddle a tiny kayak out on the ocean...and realize how truly vulnerable we are in the face of full-on nature. Hubris gives way to caution. Take off your shoes and go for a walk along a rocky how pain-fully slow and awkward we are, without our "foot armour". Hubris evaporates with the "ouch". Wait for the next clear night, and look up a the stars...see how absurd it really is to pretend that we know very much at all. If the brain can take in a "dust mote" of the infinite immensity, there's no more room left for hubris. As Jill wrote, "we don't even know what we don't know".

Unrestrained hubris, arrogance in the face of nature, gets paddlers, runners, and most of us human beings in a world of "hot water" - the kind of hot water we don't want to be in. Seems to be something we human beings need to work on.

Just a thought,


Image: Joan in her CD Solstice GTS, and Entrance Island, just off Gabriola Island, British Columbia.


  1. I have a picture of the guy on the top of the railway car! Wonderful how nature puts our oft -inflated "egos" in their place. Good story.


  2. John Dellarosa20 August, 2010 03:53

    Interesting thought, Gen. I wonder if those who choose to spend leisure time "outside" are less inclined to hubris. That is, we've had our fair share of humbling experiences while enjoying Mother Nature! Not a bad thing, of course, so long as we learn from them.

  3. Hey Gen and John,

    Thanks for dropping by, we always appreciate your thoughts and comments. Duncan.