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Smelling Your Piss—A Sappy Thanksgiving Sermon


Some of you may know that I used to work with Bill Phillips of MET-Rx, EAS, Muscle Media 2000 and Body for Life fame. With apologies to Dickens, it was for me the best of times and the worst of times.

I don’t intend to turn this into a nostalgia piece or a rag on how poor little TC was abused, but I did want to bring up a particular incident regarding Bill that’s central to the theme of this article.

Back in—I think it was 1995—Bill came into my office and told me they’d found a tumor in his jaw and neck. Apparently it had wrapped itself in and around the salivary glands. They didn’t know if it was malignant and they wouldn’t know until they removed it and sent it to the lab.

A remarkable thing happened to Bill when they found the tumor. He became humble. Gone was the hemi-powered ego. He even asked his long-time girlfriend—Ami, who you can see on the current installment of CBS’ Survivor–to marry him!

He was obviously scared shitless.

Then came the much-anticipated surgery. The tumor was benign and despite its involvement with his salivary glands, the doctors were able to remove it without causing any damage.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think that the gene for humility was contained in that tumorous mass. As soon as they removed it and he got the report, Bill went back to being an SOB. His mortality was no longer staring him in the face. Within days, he was back to hanging up survey sheets from Muscle Media that showed Bill was our most popular writer. Each one had the words, "Bill knows his audience!" written on them.

(That’s what happens when you’re really full of yourself–you start referring to yourself in the third person.)

Bill Phillips, in the throes of hubris.

And the wedding? He went back to banging fitness models and Playboy bunnies and while the marriage was never officially called off, the idea of it just faded away like any bad memory eventually does.

While we at T-Nation continually extol and promote the virtues of testosterone, we sometimes gloss over the potential negative aspects of our favorite hormone. Chief among these potentially negative traits brought about by an abundance of testosterone is an abundance of pride. It’s called being "full of yourself." I’ve even heard comedian Richard Pryor once refer to it as "smelling your piss," but it was the ancient Greeks who had the whole thing figured out. They called it hubris.

To the Greeks, hubris was the immense and overpowering pride brought about by being rich, powerful, or in possession of certain gifts. Having this power or ability leads one to believe he’s the equal of the Gods. Feeling this way, it’s only a matter of time before the hubristic one starts to take advantage of other people by using his power in inappropriate ways.

The Greeks believed that the gods would ultimately punish you for thinking yourself their equal, and one of the ways they might do this was by giving you so much hubris that you become blind to your arrogance, downright delusional. Then you’d commit further acts of hubris until you did something really terrible and it came back to you bite you in the ass. This delusional state was called Ate (pronounced AHtay).

Suffice it to say Bill was neck-deep in Ate. While he was a brilliant businessman, he was a virtual moron in the area of humility. As such, his pride distorted all his decisions, business and otherwise. Sure, he was a success, regardless, but that was a different time. The supplement market was ripe for the picking. I’d venture to say that he couldn’t compete in today’s market, not with all that overwhelming hubris weighing him down.

But most, if not all of us high-T types are prone to pride and hubris. Take a look at politicians, sports stars, rock stars and just about anybody who’s earned a modicum of fame. Can one of you look at Tom DeLay, Donald Rumsfeld, Kobe Bryant, or even Bill O’Reilly and tell me that they don’t feel they’re ready to build condos right next to the homes of the gods?

Even those of us who aren’t so famous are prone to this sort of thing, albeit to a lesser extent. I see excessive pride over wine all the damn time; morons swirling it around in their mouths before their infinitely complex taste buds could analyze the stuff; berating others for not "letting it breathe." What in fuckin’ Sonoma Valley does that mean, anyhow?

I see doctors having more than their share of hubris any time I get within pummeling distance of any of them. Hey, in Russia, you’re regarded as nothing more than a mechanic, a body mechanic.

I even ran into a prideful poker player the other night. The guy’s a dead ringer for "Comic Book Guy" from The Simpsons and the fat bastard is trash talking me over a hand of cards! What a maroon.

Bodybuilders think they’re more evolved than powerlifters and powerlifters think they’re superior to bodybuilders. Hell, even friggin’ users of kettlebells think they’re hot stuff.

All of these people have one thing in common: they think they’re the equals of gods because they know something about some inconsequential topic or have some sort of skill.

I’m occasionally guilty of this type of crap myself. Whenever I overhear someone butchering some topic that’s dear to me, I can feel an arrogant lip start to curl up. When I hear someone gushing over some hack writer, I can feel that damn thing twitching. When I see some incompetent trainer taking some witless fool through his unsteady paces, it starts to curl up.

But thank God I keep it in check. I think to myself that I haven’t done anything special and that my fat lip just better stay in place, thank you very much. If that doesn’t work, I think of the people who really ought to have been riding high on hubris but weren’t because at their core was a healthy supply of humility.

The philosopher Socrates, despite all his wisdom, didn’t consider himself wise, and so he spent his life seeking wisdom. Likewise, Einstein was bothered, no, troubled by the adulation he received. "It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them [people with gifts] for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them," wrote the author of relativity. "This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque."

But for those that don’t try to keep their pride in check or who are in the throes of Ate and don’t realize their extreme hubris, they will, sooner or later, face something in life that grabs them by the back of the neck and shoves their nose into the doo-doo they’ve left on the cosmic lawn. For them, the crash is harder, much, much harder.

It usually comes in some form of illness, either to themselves or someone they care about. It slaps them so hard they suddenly realize that all men are brothers because they’re all dying and sooner or later, we’re all going to end up wearing diapers while some candy striper who couldn’t care less about our dignity shoves pabulum into our piehole.

Unfortunately, these bouts of humility don’t last too long. Their lucidity regarding the human condition is brief and they usually drift back to where they started, like the dead leaves you raked onto your neighbor’s lawn.

A good friend of mine left Ireland several years ago to move to California. Among the people Patrick left behind was a former business partner, Dan, who had made hubris a religion.

Patrick did well in America and assimilated the culture wholeheartedly, so much so that he turned "huggy." In other words, he adopted the American habit of hugging friends hello and hugging friends good-bye.

When Patrick went back to Ireland for a visit, he dropped in on his old business partner who he promptly hugged, or rather, tried to hug. Dan recoiled in disgust, almost horror. Granted, people in other parts of the world aren’t as huggy as they are in America, but Dan was an extreme case as he wasn’t used to physical contact or warm emotion of any kind. After all, he was a high-powered business bastard and what business does a mere mortal have in touching a god?

That was a couple of years ago. Patrick went back to visit Ireland again this past summer, and this time Dan was dying from cancer.

Patrick walked into Dan’s hospital room and after quietly saying hello, Dan said, "Might I be having one of those hugs now?"

Two weeks later, Dan was dead.

He learned the lesson, but it was a little too late.

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