Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hubris, Mental Illness & Imported Cheese

I come from a long line of arrogant egomaniacs, which is one of many reasons I find the subject so interesting. As I’ve wandered in the woods of mental illness and alcoholism I have come to understand the close link between hubris, insanity and misery. Conversely, I now fully appreciate the role that humility plays in peace of mind and being a righteous human being.

I had a friend, let’s call him Gertrude, although his real name is Frank. Gertrude was scary smart, I mean Mensa smart. Gertrude read the newspaper every day and delighted, if delighted is the right word, in regaling me with stories that illustrated the astounding stupidity of humanity – it was like scratching an itchy wound for Gertrude. The more he did it the more disgusted and full of loathing he became.

I realized in time that Gertrude was looking at humanity from God’s point of view, totally separated from it. (Ironically, detachment from perceived idiocy only served to make him despondent and he saved the greatest loathing for himself.) In the rooms I’ve been introduced to the idea that thinking you are worse than everyone else is no less ego-maniacal than thinking you are better than everyone else. In either case the ego is moving to center stage and telling an enormous lie.

The delusions of grandeur one encounters in mania are well known, so called “grandiosity.” Riding in the back of a squad car does wonders to help you sort out who has it all together and who doesn’t. The hubris of alcoholism comes in various forms. For one, there’s the “Leave me alone, the only person I’m hurting is myself,” nonsense. Even more interesting is the arrogance of thinking one is beyond help.

The day I realized I really was “Just Another Bozo On The Bus” was transformational, as if a giant weight had been removed from my shoulders. Today, I no longer laugh the way Gertrude laughs, with contempt, disgust, derision – like a visitor to the zoo laughing at the antics of lower primates. I now laugh at a large group that includes me, humanity – and that hurts a little too – because sometimes the behavior of this group to which I belong is very disappointing indeed. But you can’t play it both ways. When you consciously join the human race you join the whole team and you must own the behavior of even the least exemplary members. That’s where the humility comes in.

Unfortunately I will have to defer the discussion of imported cheese. 

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