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HUMILITY KILLS PRIDE. A LESSON ON EGO FROM THE BIBLE

Josh Schmitz

We generally admit that humility is a virtue and ego is a vice. Yet this black and white definition is made complicated by the fact that any sensible person would also admit that confidence is important.

We’d say it’s more than important—we know that confidence is essential. After all, if you don’t think you can do something—if you’re crippled by fear for instance—you’re probably not going to be able to do it.

Which is why it is such a tough and eternally vexing question: What’s the difference between self-doubt and humility? Where does confidence end and ego begin? Is it about degrees? How much should you have of each? Or are the traits opposed to each other? And if ego is so bad, why do so many successful people seem to have big ones?

The truth is that like all important things the answer is complicated. There is no magic number of units you’re supposed to have of each, no modern solution to this timeless problem. Which is why, as worn as the story has become, there is no better lesson about the dangers and benefits of confidence and ego and humility than the story of David and Goliath.

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If we go back in time then, to 1000 BCE, we’d find Israel and Philistine locked in terrible war in the Valley of Elah. It would be the great Goliath who issued his bold challenge to the Israelites, offering to put an end to the stalemate between his army, the Philistines, and theirs. “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other,” he shouted as he paced up and down the lines of soldiers. His offer was simple: if a man could beat him, the war would be over and his people would submit. If he beat them, the Israelites would be forced submit to him.

For forty days, twice a day, Goliath repeated this challenge. Not a single soldier stepped forward, not even the King of Israel, King Saul. In fact, the Israelites trembled in fear. They huddled inside their lines, believing it to be impossible to defeat this giant (who according to the texts was either 6’9’’ or 9’9’’ tall and incredibly strong). These were supposed to be the bravest men in all of Israel, but they were paralyzed, frozen in fear.

This, if you’re wondering, is the definition of cowardice. It’s not like a different soldier tried every day for a month and all were defeated. No one tried. Of course they should have been afraid—but courage is what you do when you are afraid. It is the triumph of training and spirit over fear. It’s not as if the army came up with all sorts of different attacks and were repulsed. They did nothing. They just waited. They just hoped he would go away.

Then comes young David. David is a shepherd and three of his brothers are serving in the army. He comes to visit and while he’s there with them, he hears Goliath’s daily challenge. He asks his brothers about it and they make fun of him—as if their little brother could even comprehend what was happening. David brushes aside their teasing and approaches King Saul about undertaking the challenge. Once again, he is dismissed. This is the power of cowardice, cowardice and ego. The other soldiers, including David’s own brothers, are so certain of their own beliefs that they find it impossible than any other reality than one dominated by the fears they feel.

But David is not convinced by their cowardice, he sees the situation with fresh eyes. He responds to the king’s dismissal by pointing out that for years he has bravely kept watch over his father’s flock.

“When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.”

This then is the definition of confidence. David has evidence (not simply belief) that he can successfully face this challenge because he has faced similar challenges in the past with bravery and strength. He has killed lions and bears with his own hands. He knows what he is capable of. He knows courage. Religious people would also say that he has the comfort and security of his belief in God and whether you agree with that or not, it’s undeniable that this was a source of strength and purpose for him. It’s part of his confidence.

So how does Goliath respond to seeing this tiny challenger emerge in front of him? He responded like most egotistical bullies. He laughed. He said to him, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” Goliath could see only a small boy, not a threat. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

This then is ego. Goliath had gone unchallenged for so long, he had begun to see himself as invincible. David might have had strong faith in his god. Goliath, because of his size, his strength, his position, had come in part to believe he was a god. There is an argument that David was crazy. That Goliath was right to dismiss him, that it wasn’t ego but deserved confidence. Except subsequent events would prove that demonstrably false. And indeed it was this ego, this inability to see the threat that a smaller, nimbler, courageous opponent might represent that would be the opening that would make it possible for Goliath to be defeated. We often miss that in discussions about ego—that it sows the seeds of its own destruction—but here it is obvious and undeniable.

I know you think you know the end of the story and I know I’ve just hinted it at it, but there is another variable to look at, and it has to do with how David challenged Goliath. When King Saul allowed David to fight Goliath, he first insisted that he wore the standard armor and helmet of a soldier. David tried them on, but found it impossible to move, being so small. “I cannot go in these,” he replied, “because I am not used to them.” Instead, David went in his shepherd’s clothing and fished a few stones out of the river.

Believing that he couldn’t beat Goliath in an even matchup, David knew he needed to move quickly. He ran at the great man, reached into his bag, and with his sling, threw one perfectly aimed stone from a great distant. Within seconds, the fight was over. Goliath pitched forward, stunned by the blow, and while he was on the ground, David cut off his head—with the man’s own sword.

If confidence is knowing your strength, humility is an awareness of one’s own weaknesses. David possessed as much humility as he did confidence. It must be said first that he never sought out this fight—he’d have preferred that the army took care of it. He’d probably have preferred the war never need to take place at all. Once the challenge came his way, however, and he saw that no one else was doing anything, he asked himself what he might do if he had to. David knew that he was too small and weak to fight in traditional armor. He could see how it slowed him down. He knew that his courage was hardly sufficient to compensate for the massive size differential and that his lack of fighting skills made a direct challenge next to impossible. He knew that if Goliath got his hands on him, it was over, that his flesh would soon be fed to the birds and animals. Yet also aware of his skill with the sling, he knew he had an advantage. If he could get one shot off, time it right, there was an opportunity. He was confident enough to take it.

It is here that David’s faith also plays a role. Just as his belief gave him confidence, it also makes him humble. He sees himself as a servant of the lord, and also a servant of his king. He believes he’s been called to answer this challenge—his will is strong because it’s not his will—but conversely, if he were to lose, he would see that as being God’s plan as well. In a sense, he’s willing to proceed knowing full well that it could go horribly wrong for him. There is real humility, real courage in that.

In Caravaggio’s great painting of David with the Head of Goliath, there is a detail that most people miss. The painting shows David holding Goliath’s head in one hand and his sword in the other. On the hilt of that sword, in small lettering, is the acronym, H-AS OS, humilitas occidit superbiam. Humility Kills Pride. Pride is a sin for a reason—because it makes us think that we are better than God, or than other people. Humility kills ego as well. Or rather, humility and confidence, in concert with each other, are an unstoppable force.

Another great fighter and champion, Frank Shamrock, would say many centuries later, that ego is a sort of false idea, a kind of mental garbage. “If you’re running on ego,” he said, “you aren’t running on good clean emotions or cause and effect.” Is that not the story of all great boxers? The scrappy underdog beats the overconfident champ, only to become the overconfident champ who is defeated by the next scrappy underdog? “Champ-itis” is what they call it. That was the problem for Goliath, and the moral of his story. He had gone far beyond confidence, he had gone well into pride and hubris. For forty days, twice a day, he was right. No one could beat him. He was invincible. An entire army cowered in front of him. But like the famous story of the turkey, it only took one day to change everything.

David’s life changed too. His quiet confidence, his creative humility not only made him victorious over Goliath but soon enough it would make him king. The moral of David’s story is there to counteract that timeless worry, expressed so well by the Reverend Dr. Sam Wells, that if we are humble, we will end up “subjugated, trodden on, embarrassed, and irrelevant.” In fact, humility makes us powerful and it can be the source of great strength. As for David it transformed from servant to leader, challenger to incumbent. One can imagine he soon felt the pull and corruption of ego once he held power, putting him firmly in the shoes of Goliath and Saul…as it always seems to go. And so in this way, ego is always the enemy—of who you are, where you are going, and what you want to do.

The reason the story of David and Goliath survives is not simply because it is the tale of the underdog, which we all love. It survives because it is the rich interplay between the traits and virtues every person must wrestle with in their own way in their own life: Where does my confidence come from? What does it mean to be humble? How can I avoid the dangers of ego and hubris?

The answer is in the text if you look for it: It’s that we need confidence or we are weak and afraid. We need to be wary of ego because it makes us vulnerable and self-destructive. Most of all, we need humility to guide and direct us. And these three variables are in constant flux and flow with each other, bringing us success and honor and heroism when they are in balance but pain, suffering and disaster when they are not.

*This story originally appeared on Thought Catalog, written by Ryan Holiday

NO ROOM FOR SELF PITY

Josh Schmitz

I have a confession. I’m given to self pity. I hate it and I don’t want it in my life anymore. It’s costing me.

In the past month or so I’ve been studying Richard Nixon. We just passed the 40th anniversary of his impeachment and resignation, so interviews and articles have been floating around the internet.

Nixon lived in a bit of an ethical fog.

But in my opinion his ethics problems weren’t his primary flaw. His primary flaw was he felt sorry for himself.

Whether it was constantly comparing himself to the Kennedys or wishing the press would cut him a break, Nixon’s default mode was to shirk responsibility for his actions by blaming his problems on other people.

 

Remarkably, self pity is often the default mode of the bully. Why? Because it’s just another way of playing the bully. Every victim needs an oppressor, and people don’t like oppressors so the bully often flops to play the victim as a way of making their enemies look bad. It’s just more manipulation.

To be sure, there are real victims in the world.

Henry Cloud says a victim is somebody who is truly hopeless. But Nixon was never hopeless.

In leadership, playing the victim backfires. When Nixon lost his bid for governor of California he gave a press conference in which he scolded the media for their constant criticism, saying this would be his last press conference and that they wouldn’t have “Nixon to kick around anymore.” The press conference made him a laughing stock and it was the primary obstacle he had to overcome as he continued his political career. Even today it’s considered his second biggest mistake, after Watergate, of course.

Pat Buchanan says self pity is the nail in the coffin of any political career, but I suggest it’s much more than a political career that gets hurt by self pity. I think as wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, teachers, pastors and just about any other leadership role we play, self pity is intuitively seen by others as a weakness and it makes people not want to follow us.

If we need to ask for help, that’s great.

We can confide in friends, see a counselor or even publicly ask for help, but playing the victim isn’t that. Playing the victim is accusing other people of oppressing us in a dramaticized fashion. Self pity is emotional exaggeration as a way of blaming our problems on others.

Preaching to myself, I know. But hopefully I’ll be taking some folks with me. No more self pity. Let’s move up and on.

The world needs us to lead, not to lick our wounds.

WHY YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT DEATH EVERYDAY

Josh Schmitz

In late 1569, a French nobleman named Michel de Montaigne was given up as dead after being flung from a galloping horse.

As his friends carried his limp and bloodied body home, Montaigne watched his own life slip away, like some dancing spirit on the “tip of his lips,” only to have it return at the last possible second.

This sublime and unusual experience marked the moment Montaigne changed his life. Within a few years, he would be one of the most famous writers in Europe. After his accident, Montaigne went on to write volumes of popular essays, serve two terms as mayor, travel internationally as a dignitary, and serve as a confidante of the king.

It’s a story as old as time. Man nearly dies, he takes stock, and emerges from the experience a completely different, and better, person. “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” Samuel Johnson famously observed.

And so it was for Montaigne. Coming so close to death energized him, made him curious. No longer was death something to be afraid of—looking it in the eyes had been a relief, even inspiring.

But the truth is we don’t need a near-death experience or a cancer-scare to tap into this energy. We can access it right now—and there is great power in doing so.

The powerful and the wise have been finding ways to remind themselves of their mortality for centuries. Their art is filled with it. Their writing muses on it. Their desks were staged with totems to remind them of the urgency of life. They would keep it close their body too, wearing memento mori rings, cufflinks, even tattoos. They never wanted to forget: We can go at any moment.

Earlier this year, I felt myself getting a little complacent. I felt like I was stuck in my routine, that I was doing the same things over and over as if my life would go on forever. I went on 99designs and had my own Memento Mori designed, something I could carry with me everywhere. It’s a two sided coin. On the front it, it has a rendering of Philippe de Champaigne painting Still Life with a Skull, which shows three essentials of existence – the tulip (life), the skull (death), and the hourglass (time). On the back, it has Marcus Aurelius’s quote: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Except I cut off the last part—as a reminder that there isn’t even time to go through the whole line. Then I sent it off to be produced at a mint that that was old before my grandparents were even born. (You can get your own version of the coin here if you want one.)

The point is urgency. Appreciation. Humility. The present moment.

We may not say it, but deep down we often act and behave like we’re invincible. Like we’re impervious to the trials and tribulations of mortality. That stuff happens to other people, not to ME. I have plenty of time left.

We forget how light our grip on life really is. How out of our hands it can be.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over trivialities, or trying to become famous, make more money than we could ever spend in our lifetime, or make plans far off in the future. All of these are negated by death. All these assumptions presume that death won’t affect us, or at least, not when we don’t want it to.

It doesn’t matter who you are or how many things you have left to be done, somewhere there is someone who would kill you for a thousand dollars or for a vial of crack or for getting in their way. A car can hit you in an intersection and drive your teeth back into your skull. That’s it. It will all be over. Today, tomorrow, someday soon. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

What is in our control? What we do with this moment right here, the one that is slip, slip, slipping away even as you read this.

It’s a cliché question to ask, What would I change about my life if the doctor told me I had cancer? After our answer, we inevitably comfort ourselves with the same insidious lie: Well, thank God I don’t have cancer.

But we do. The diagnosis is terminal for all of us. As the writer Edmund Wilson put it, “Death is one prophecy that never fails.” Every person is born with a death sentence. Each second, probability is eating away at the chances that we’ll be alive tomorrow; something is coming and you’ll never be able to stop it. Be ready for when that day comes.

Remember the serenity prayer: If something is in our control, it’s worth every ounce of our efforts and energy. Death is not one of those things—it is not fully in our control how long we will live or what will come and take us from life. So we should focus on life, not on silly plans to live forever, or on fear or worry about death. We should focus on living the second in front of us right now, while we still have it.

It’s not morbid to think about death constantly. It’s stupid not to. Spending a few minutes every day on our mortality, reaching into our pocket to touch a totem that reminds us of it, is not sad. It creates real perspective and urgency. The existence of death need not be depressing. Because it’s actually invigorating.

Reminding ourselves each day that we will die, helps us treat our time as a gift. Someone on a deadline doesn’t indulge himself with attempts at the impossible, he doesn’t waste time complaining about how he’d like things to be. It cuts down on bullshit and the unnecessary. It suddenly doesn’t feel rude to say no—it feels selfish to the people you care about not to.

Take a page from the ancients and even from the not so distant past. Learn the lessons taught the hard way in generations where death was much more common, when life was much more unpredictable. Don’t shy away from death. Think on it. Become familiar with it. Let it do its job—let it energize and propel you further. Let it help you life a better life.

Right now.

- This post originally appeared on DAILYSTOIC and is written by RYAN HOLIDAY.

RUCKUS SS17 NOW AVAILABLE!

Josh Schmitz

Ruckus is proud to announce the release of "Life In Cinema", the new Summer 2017 collection, available today, June 20th at our Bellwether flagship location, Online Shop, and select authorized retailers worldwide.

Summer 2017 is a No Coast collection at heart—a nod to our favorite sports pieces and lightweight coastal garments, thrown on for those breezy laid-back days. We’ve re-imagined classic silhouettes and updated them, like our “Traveler” baseball T, which comes nearly 4" longer in length, drapes amazingly well, and yet is still slim through the body, it's also constructed seams out to give it extra texture.

Highlights include the “DEATH” embroidered hoody,  arriving in color-blocked cotton jersey with print logos and subtle textures, inspired by your favorite metal bands and vintage sportswear. The “Mace” pullover crewneck and “Fallen Angel” T-shirt come in super lightweight custom jacquard knit as a modern take on traditional baja-style fabric.

With graphic T-shirts this season, we took huge inspiration from a wide range of RUCKUS related culture: vintage travel posters, 90s athletic wear from the University of Miami, retro skate graphics, punk show flyers, rugby aesthetics and blending the colliding culture between sophistication and violence. We also drew heavy influence from past breakups and relationships, and how perspective truly is everything. Which leads us to our fashion film also titled "Life In Cinema". Directed and Filmed by Blurred Pictures, starring Ella Rochelle Arnold and Stephen Harrison (formerly The Chariot). Thanks for looking.

RUCKUS SS17 FASHION SHOW AND CONCERT

Josh Schmitz

You know how we do things - Join us for the party of the year featuring a runway and concert event like Denver has never seen!!

Live Music By:
ECHOS
ITSOKTOCRY
SUPERLOVE
- and a VERY special secret surprise headliner!!

Special Appearances from:
Paige Hathaway
Hope Beel
Natasha Lillipore
Hope Howard
Christian Benner

Doors at 9pm
- Show starts at 10 sharp so do not be late!

Don't believe the hype - just come see for yourself what we are all about!!

Sponsored by:
Redbull
Bulleit Whiskey
Donna Baldwin Agency CO
Death Row Records
The Circle Agency

Benefitting:
Skate For Change, a full 501c3 non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness through skateboarding and youth outreach.