Some words are just so fitting. They sound like what they are describing, and to me hubris is just one of those words. One might not know exactly what hubris is, but when you hear it, you can just tell by sound and context, it is not a positive thing. Then there are other words that can mean very different things based on their context. Character is that classic example – “having character” is a good thing, but “being a character” might not be as positive. It is no wonder English is such a challenging language.
And yet those two words seem to capture the saga of Ohio State’s former football coach Jim Tressel. For years he was held out as “a man of character”, but in the end he was undone by hubris. It is an incredibly interesting and incredibly sad tale. Someday the entire truth might come out, but in the final analysis, much as it was with Icarus, coach Tressel’s fall from grace was as much about hubris as it was anything.
What has lingered with me is that timeless quote on character:
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King Jr.
It is such a fine line between confidence and arrogance, conviction and obstinacy, or just a little more and a bit too much. Though that line might be fine in width, the depth of the difference is an absolute chasm. And it is into that chasm so many have fallen – leaders and followers alike, but almost all were on a journey of best intentions when they slipped. All too often character in one of its forms is a prelude to hubris. Interesting how that works…sometimes.