Hubris and the self-made man

I’ve tried a few of diets over the years and found a lot of advice comes from thin people. I’m not talking about the formerly plump, but those who have been slender all their lives.

The advice is simple: Avoiding excess pounds is a simple math problem: Calories consumed vs. calories burned. It goes without saying, of course, that these svelte individuals are paradigms of self-discipline, denying their bodies calories while virtuously exercising daily to stay ahead in the caloric math war.

It also goes without saying that those of us who struggle with our weight are seen as wrestling with personal vice: gluttony and sloth. If we profess to living off minimal calories a day with regular vigorous exercise – while never losing a pound – we get knowing looks: Clearly, we must be harboring a secret midnight gluttony.

In his new book, Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes explores scientific evidence that being fat or thin may not be a simple issue of vice vs. virtue. Taubes finds that what we eat could be as important as calorie math. And, tapping into this evidence, I have found – after 15 years of looking – a way of eating under which I can actually lose weight.

So, what does all this have to do with faith, Lent or gratitude?

In my mind, hubris is the opposite of gratitude. And it is hubris that leads us to believe all our strengths – a slender physique, financial success, or public recognition – are due exclusively to our own hard work and merit. And, others’ weaknesses or setbacks are due to their slothfulness, intellectual feebleness, or gluttony.

So hubris basically denies the existence of God, or for the non-religious, even the existence of luck, good fortune or the help of others.

I’ve been very fortunate in the last 15 months. I’ve survived a significant illness, found a way to lose weight, and received national recognition for a marketing campaign. In this, I see evidence of God’s assistance. I was blessed with an excellent surgeon, fortunate to find information that helped me lose weight, and grateful to work as part of a bright, award-winning team of professionals.

Did I play a role in these good things? Yes. I worked hard and, in some cases, experienced significant pain.

Did I accomplish these things alone, by sheer force of will, unique intellect and personal virtuosity? Of course not. You don’t have to be religious to recognize the absurdity in the concepts of hubris and the self-made man.

In this Lenten season, I’m focused on gratitude … for something bigger than me, for the healing hands of physicians, and for the people in my life who make any progress possible.

How about you? Are you a self-made person?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    I’m not a religious person, really (it just doesn’t agree with me). But I do agree that to be responsible people who work productively with others, we all should be aware and appreciative of the fact that personal and career/job successes are not solely due to our own efforts and abilities. However, I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t value our own abilities.

    Knowing our own strengths and weaknesses and knowing how they can benefit our work and private lives is beneficial. I also see value in having a healthy amount of pride in accomplishments. Not to the extent that we place our self-worth above others or put ourselves on a pedestal. But I think it’s important to understand and truly feel that we make a positive difference, without ignoring the contributions of co-workers, family and friends.

    Another good way to counteract hubris is to recognize that personal attributes, skills and talents are not magically bestowed upon us.
    Yes, a certain amount of talent and skill is innate but still must be refined and developed — whether it be through formal education or life lessons learned from loved ones, mentors and colleagues. We also learn a lot from our mistakes. Those tough yet valuable lessons can shape us more than our successes.

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