Hubris and Humility

I’m not proud of it, but I watched most of Independence Day on the tv tonight. Worse, I actually found one of the commercials intellectually stimulating. It — probably unintentionally — touched on a profound insight into human nature.

The 30-second spot promotes a show where paranormal investigators visit haunted houses looking for evidence of supernatural activity. Unexplained noises and happenings abound.

One of the hosts said something along the lines of, whether believer or skeptic, you have to admit that we don’t have answers for everything. This is true.

The unsaid, though unsubtly-hinted-at implication was that some creepy phenomena therefore have other-worldly causes.

That’s the insight. People hate to admit not knowing something; often they would rather just make up an answer.

It takes a big man (or woman) to say, “I don’t know,” mean it, and be ok with it. There is a certain hubris built into the human psyche.

On one hand, it gives us courage. We can go up against overwhelming odds, and our disproportionate self-regard tells us, “I can overcome.” And sometimes, we do. Overconfidence does have its uses.

On the other hand, it makes us say really weird things. If I can’t explain this weird noise coming out of my basement, well, I can’t admit that! I have to say something, anything, so I don’t feel dumb. Er, uh, it must be a ghost, then!

Of course, the logic does not follow from “I don’t know” to “therefore it is a ghost.” But it sure feels good to say, “I know the answer!” And just as important, I look and feel good because of it.

We humans are strange, wonderful, and arrogant creatures. One of these days I hope to find out what makes us tick. Until then, I will grudgingly admit that I do not know.

One response to “Hubris and Humility

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