It blows hot and cold.
When hot, it puffs you up like Blowfish, chalking your victories to your brilliance but conveniently blaming bad luck for your defeats.
It electrifies your hair, raises goosebumps on your skin, and swells your patriotic chest at the rise of a flag and the beginning chords of your nation’s anthem without once allowing you to reflect on the underbelly and scourge of your country’s might and supremacy or whether the aroused sensations could be compensating for a feeling of worthlessness resulting from a presumed lack of personal power.
Pride, warns the Bible, goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Before my grandiose business schemes collapsed in early 1999, I was as arrogant and overweening as boxing legend Muhammad Ali who described himself as “young, handsome, and fast! further claiming he couldn’t possibly be beat.
“I’m not the greatest,” he boasted, “I’m the double greatest!”
His dazzling career ended in a humiliating defeat to lumbering, slow-armed boxer Trevor Berbick.
“To see Ali lose to such a moderate fighter,” one sportswriter lamented, “was like watching a king riding into permanent exile on the back of a garbage truck.”
The legacy of the great emperor Marcus Aurelius, along with the mighty Roman Empire, were snuffed by the hot breath of conceit that burned delusional in his young son and successor Commodus.
A mere 70 years after Greek philosopher Socrates warned Athenians of the perils of their unquestioning pride, their empire collapsed under the sword of Alexander the Great whose own hubris and intemperance later led to the downfall of his vast and powerful empire.
Hubris, or toxic pride, awakens ‘Nemesis,’ the Greek Goddess of Retribution.
When the Dragon of Toxic Masculine Pride blows cold, its breath originates from the belly of shame, scrawling one nagging question inside our heads:
“WHAT WILL OTHERS THINK OF ME?”
It makes us preemptively ashamed of what others might think should we fail at something, so we don’t even try.
Ashamed to be thought of as ‘losers’ if we don’t have lots of money or fame, we push ourselves to the breaking point, even if it goes against the grain of our temperament, and often at the price of our health, relationships, and wellbeing.
It forces us go to the gym to workout our muscles or pump them with steroids because we have chosen to believe only ‘real men’ have them and if we don’t, we think it is something to be ashamed of.
It keeps us from reading poetry or pouring our darkest emotions onto the pages of a journal, from dancing or painting, from hugging a friend and telling him we love him, because we have chosen to believe ‘real men’ don’t do these things.
It’s the one that keeps us from asking for help when we most need it, from saying we don’t know because we think we’ll appear stupid, from crying when we really need to cry or admitting we are lost and afraid.
The antidotes to neutralize the twofold venom (pride and shame) of this toxic Dragon can be found inscribed at the Greek temple of Apollo, high up Mt. Parnassus in the town of Delphi.
Home to the famous oracle Pythia, or priestess, ordinary Athenians would climb up to the temple to ask her questions and seek guidance for their actions. Think of her as the foremother of therapists and life coaches.
Among the 147 Delphic aphorisms, or guiding truths, inscribed on the forecourt of Apollo’s temple, are the twin weapons we must use to vanquish the Dragon of Toxic Pride:
“Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess”.
Self-knowledge not only involves a detailed mapping and intimate knowledge of our temperament and abilities but must also consider our evolutionary history and biochemistry to fully understand our behavior and its triggers.
We would then, for example, be suspicious whenever our hair unconsciously stands on end with nationalistic pride, and recognize this reflex as nothing more than our overactive amygdalas, and our species’ prosocial need to belong to something greater than ourselves, reminding us how this evolutionary-adaptive trait, when taken to an extreme, has led to unspeakable terror, oppression, war, and genocide. We’d then be free to seek belonging without renouncing our integrity and sovereignty.
A critical awareness of the presuppositions and biases of our thoughts and opinions would make us rightly skeptical of our much vaunted rationality and lead us to greater wisdom and away from dangerous extremism.
“Nothing in Excess” must have been what inspired Greek philosopher Aristotle to develop his concept of the Golden Mean.
Modesty, Aristotle proposed, or moderation when estimating our abilities, was the golden mean between the extremes of hubris and a sense of worthlessness.
Had young Commodus, for example, appropriately channeled the energies of King rather than identifying himself as King and God, he would have magnified his father’s legacy and possibly prolonged the halcyon era known as the Pax Romana. Instead, he declared himself to be an incarnation of the god Hercules and forced the senate to recognize his divinity. Statues of Commodus were erected across the city of Rome including one made of solid gold weighing nearly 1,000 pounds.
Taking time to appraise and value our unique temperament and abilities will keep us from pursuing careers or undertaking challenges for which we are unsuited, and, instead, assume our rightful place in the world from which we can radiate the power of our authentic worth.
Further understanding our brain’s unique neurochemistry can also potentially help us choose the right partner for a long lasting relationship, as discovered by anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Match.com, Helen Fisher.
An honest assessment of our proudful victories will reveal the crucial role played by genes, luck, proper timing or circumstance, making us humble and quick to replace the insensitive label of “Loser” for the benevolent one of “Unfortunate” when judging the plight of those ill-served by providence. Pity would lead to compassion and be further nurtured by the awareness that suffering, failure, and imperfection are part of our shared human experience.
Understanding our limitations will break through the stoic armor we often use to hide our doubts and fears, opening a door to courageous vulnerability which will allow us to seek help while inciting us to reconnect with our feeling bodies and not think twice about nurturing our softer sides through dance, poetry, tears, deep relationships, and intimacy.
The Dragon of Toxic Masculine Pride is a formidable adversary, no doubt, but no match for the True Masculine who recognizes the value of self-knowledge and seeks the golden mean between the extremes of hubris and worthlessness by cultivating the Life Force of Moderation.
Join my online community and receive the entire Dragon Series delivered to your inbox, as well as a treasure-trove of letters containing the insight of some of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers with my recipes for applying their wisdom to your own life.