I’m enjoying Dragon on Top, the latest installment of G.A. Aiken’s (the nom de plume of Shelly Laurenston) Dragon Kin series. I adore this series because it always brings a smile to my face; this extended shapeshifting-dragon family is crude, loud and proud. In fact, each faction of dragons is more arrogant than the last, and it’s a rocking good time to see them taken down a notch (usually through the power of love, so it’s nice—and naughty, it’s a twofer). All of these arrogant dragons got me thinking about the fatal flaw of hubris. It’s a killer. There’s a reason Greek tragedies focus on the issue.

Arrogance is a character defect. It is the opposite of humility, which is also a grossly misunderstood trait. I’ve actually spent a great deal of time contemplating my navel… I mean thinking about the twin notions of hubris and humility. I used to confuse confidence and arrogance while simultaneously mixing up humility with humiliation. I doubt I’m alone in my befuddlement. 

Take my current predicament, for example. For about the past ten years (out of a total of almost 16), I’ve felt pretty confident of my skills as a parent. Our kids were secure, outgoing, athletic and intellectually gifted. They defended those who were weaker and/or less popular than they, and they were good with adults without being as smarmy as Eddie Haskell. That they drove me crazy was more about the fact that it wasn’t a very long distance to travel in the first place, more than it was about any particular deficiencies or issues on their part. Our kids talked to me and told me what was going on, more so than other kids. I thought I was the shit. 

That would be an excellent example of hubris, and it is coming back to bite me in the ass, as it always does. I’m just praying that the consequences are less severe than they were for, say, Oedipus. I’m also praying that my son doesn’t pay the price for my pride.

It turns out that our “older” son (by 90 seconds) is much more of a typical teenager than I’d hoped. His father and I actually need to intervene a lot more than I thought we would. I’ve had absolutely no idea what I’m doing, except all parties are telling me that what I’m doing isn’t working. So I was feeling fairly humiliated, not to mention clueless, ineffective and totally oblivious.

And then a friend pointed out that this wasn’t about me. Oops. This was true. And what was called for in the face of my previous pride was not humiliation, but humility. Sounds good and all, but what the hell did it mean? My very patient friend calmly explained that humility is a simple concept; humility is the state of being teachable. As opposed to arrogance, the state of knowing it all, in the country of “Why should I listen to you?”

My friend’s explanation hit me like a ton of bricks. Not teachable? Me? Know it all? Moi? Surely she jested. But no, she was as serious as Severus Snape in the middle of a Defense Against the Dark Arts class. I was brought up short. This was one step beyond even Egypt—I wasn’t just in denial, I was treading the waters of the Atlantic, that’s how far off course I was.  I needed to become teachable, fast. 

One would think I’d have learned this lesson already. My hubris has cost me plenty in the past. As a senior in high school I was on a glide path toward certain Harvard admission. I was near the top of my class and our college counselor had served as a Harvard admissions officer in a previous incarnation. I’d always assumed I would attend the most prestigious school in the nation. I guess you know where this story is heading, and it ain’t Cambridge. Being the highly annoying, massively arrogant seventeen year-old that I was, I thought Harvard should be honored to have me, so I showed up for my interview in jeans and an attitude. Long story short, no Harvard for me. Not even wait listed. That was a hard, hard lesson to learn. Not only did I not know it all, I knew nothing, Jon Snow. 

You’d think I’d learn. But, if I’m not humble and not teachable, then I’m not gonna learn squat. And the Universe is going to keep giving me additional learning opportunities until I am well and truly schooled.  Even the dragons in Ms. Aiken’s stories learn faster than I do, apparently, and they’re dragons, for pity’s sake!

So it’s back to the blackboard for me to learn my lessons. I’m hoping to avoid the fate of Bart at the beginning of every episode of “The Simpsons”, but more will be revealed. In the meantime, In the meantime, I will remind myself to be humble – because none of us – whether, dragon or human – knows it all.

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