[FOUNTAIN]Are society’s frictions due to hubris?Ferdinand de Lesseps, the hero of the Suez Canal, was in charge of the Panama Canal Co., founded by European financiers. Just as he had done for the Suez Canal, he wanted to use a sea-level canal plan for the Panama Canal. While Lepinay de Brusly, one of the engineers working for the company, suggested building a lock canal, considering the different natural environment, Count Lesseps rejected the idea.
The price was high and cruel. Located 150 meters above sea level, the tropical forest of Panama had a different climate than the desert of Suez, only 15 meters above sea level. After many years of digging, the canal was far from complete. Over 22,000 workers died of tropical diseases in eight years, and the Panama Canal Co. filed for bankruptcy in 1889. More than a decade later, the United States, which resumed canal construction, adopted Brusly’s idea, and the canal was completed in 1913.
In his book “The Truth of Business Management,” Yoon Suck-chul, professor of management at Seoul National University, wrote that Count Lesseps made the mistake of overestimating his competence and methods after a successful experience in the past. British historian Arnold Toynbee called this “hubris.” The creative few who were successful in changing history became arrogant and demanded obedience from their followers. They lost a sense of intellectual and moral balance as well as the judgment of what is possible and what is not.
In ancient Greek, hubris referred to the kind of arrogance that trespasses the domain of the gods. In the Greek play “Oedipus Rex,” the tragic fault of the protagonist was the hubris to find out everything. In Christianity, Eve was tempted by a snake because of her hubris.
Toynbee used the word to explain the changes in history. The creative few with power would make the mistake of idolizing their methods of success as the absolute truth, and that would result in failures or discords. A successful businessman would commit the folly of hubris if he wanted to adhere to an obsolete method of management that had worked in the past.
The recent frictions in every corner of our society might be due to hubris. In order to be free of hubris, Mr. Yoon advises that we always need to be critical of our own conduct and have the humility to listen to others.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.