Michael K. Shaub, February 24th, 2010
“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, but humility goes before honor.” This proverb often comes to mind for me, usually when I am being mocked by some UT fan or other person reminding me they are superior to me, as are their teams. When I am in despair over being inferior, I wish deeply that this proverb would come true, and in a hurry. But my focus on the “destruction” half prevents me from taking advantage of what the second half of the proverb provides: the road to honor.
This proverb is a way of life in the political arena. One party gains power, forgets Jefferson’s assertion that governments “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and does what it pleases. The American people toss that party out on its ear, and then the other party takes its turn and does the same thing
So let me speak out on behalf of those who do the wrong thing, recognize it, and change their ways. They do not call press conferences to give constant updates on how they are changing. In fact, they avoid both public self-flagellation and public self-praise. Nothing made me more comfortable about Tiger Woods than that he disappeared from public view. It is not important to me what he is doing or where he is doing it. None of us need updates on this. I am quite confident that what he is going through right now is sufficiently humbling for him to be on the path to honor. I have no idea whether he will do it, but I root for him to find that path and stick to it. My concern is that carefully orchestrated press conferences do not normally reflect humility.
But I recognize in my own life that when I experience success, I am most subject to becoming haughty, to turning down the road to destruction. People around here so desperately want to beat UT at everything, to prove that we are better. But it is that process of becoming better that is the sweetest part of life. At A&M we strive and work and toil to be recognized for what we clearly see ourselves to be.
I work with the greatest group of colleagues I have ever had the privilege to call friends. These people have amazing gifts and use them to benefit students. But I hope we never lose the sense that we have to prove ourselves every day to be just as good—to be better!—than those folks over in Austin. And I hope that we can laugh at ourselves for becoming so fixated in comparing ourselves to others.
I grew up in Baltimore, a town that has a history of working class sports heroes. For me, and for most Baltimore fans my age, that list is really three people long: Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson, and Cal Ripken. We have loved other players—Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and Raymond Berry to name three—but if we had to pick three, the first three would get overwhelming support.
What Unitas, Robinson, and Ripken have in common is that they overachieved through hard work, and they never considered themselves bigger than the team. Unitas is at the top of most lists of the best quarterback of all time, Robinson at least in the top three of all third basemen. Ripken holds a record that will never be broken.
But they are identified with the city as much as they are with their achievements. They represent the folks who scrapped and saved the money to be able to go to the stadium to cheer them on. Except perhaps for Ripken, they hung on too long, but no one resented them for doing so. The fans did not want to let them go, any more than they wanted to leave. For more than four decades, fathers pointed to them and told their sons, “Be like him.”
They faded into the sunset, but they did not experience destruction from their fame. They resisted the siren call that said that they were better than the great unwashed, and they embraced, with humility, the gifts that they had been given. Recalling people like them is why each sport established a Hall of Fame. Humility went before honor.
I am thankful to have had them in my life, and I call on their example as I seek to live wisely in a business school environment. In business, as we all know, the lure of fame and fortune is a strong one, and it changes people. The same is true in academe. It can make people haughty, especially if they teach at, or graduate from, a great university.
I can only hope that my students will never forget the proverb that began this column. And I pray the same will be true of their professor.