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Asking For It

By Tim Hayes

Watching the Grammy Awards back in 1983, something happened that stuck in my head all these years since.

The Australian band Men At Work won the award for Best New Artist, having scored No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Living In a Land Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now.”  All well and good.

But as the band mates took the stage to accept their Grammys, one of them leaned into the microphone and in a sneering, condescending, arrogant voice proclaimed, “We are the Men… you will see us again.”

Why this moment clings to my memory 35 years after the fact, I have no explanation.  But seeing that guy’s superior attitude cranked to full boorishness and preening self-confidence on national television caused me to reply, from the comfort of my living room recliner, “Wow, buddy.  You’re really asking for it.”

Turns out my guts hit the mark.  Men At Work never reached No. 1 again on the Billboard 100, and never received another Grammy nomination.  In fact, they broke up for good two years later.

Scripture, as found in Proverbs, issues the warning, stating, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” and later, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

They used to call it getting too big for your britches, the all-too-common failing of human beings to turn into obnoxious blowhards when things get to going really good – only to have it all come crashing down in due time.  I call it karma.  And karma always – always – wins.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have fallen into this trap.  I certainly have a time or two.  Or three.  Or twenty, along the way.

Singer Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote about this in her crowd-pleasing anthem, “The Bug,” with these lyrics: “When you’re a-rippin’ and a-ridin’ and a-comin’ on strong, you start a-slippin’ and a-slidin’ and it all goes wrong.”

Somebody far back in the early reaches of my career told me to be nice to people on my way up the ladder, because I was going to see them again on my way back down.  Ain’t it the truth.  It’s easier fighting your way to the top the mountain than it is to stay there.  Ask any athlete, politician, actor, or just about anybody striving to achieve greatness.

And part of why it proves so hard to stay at the top, once you’ve made it, is the lure of hubris.  Of puffed-up self-importance. Of expanding vanity and issuing pulsating waves of superiority.  Because all that does is give the recipients of your guff more motivation to see you get knocked down a peg or two.  Or three.  Or twenty.

There’s an old song by Mac David that pops the balloon of people whose opinion of themselves has become tiresome.  Part of it goes like this: “Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / When you’re perfect in every way / I can’t wait to look in the mirror / Cause I get better lookin’ each day / To know me is to love me / I must be a hell of a man / Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble / But I’m doin’ the best that I can!”

Crazy stuff, until you run into someone who would agree with every word.

In mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring and pined away until he died.  In Freudian psychoanalysis, a narcissist displays an excessive degree of self-esteem or self-involvement, a condition that is usually a form of emotional immaturity.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, a narcissist is a person who can’t change his mind about his own wonderfulness, and won’t change the subject.  Someone who might stand before a crowd of people, lamenting everything that’s wrong with the world, and then having the spectacular hubris to declare, “And I alone can fix it.”

If pride truly goeth before the fall, then such a person would be wise to buckle up and strap on a helmet.  Or, better yet, wouldn’t we all have a better time in this world by hanging on to our humility, even as we work to better ourselves and our fellow travelers on life’s journey?

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes