The idea of Ego and the byproducts of it have been on my mind for the last few weeks. The concept of Ego is so strongly ingrained in our lives and worlds, in each culture and society perhaps, that it is difficult to look at it objectively. But given the recent events, I felt that it is something I want to think about, explore and write about.
The ego is used to refer to the concept of Self. In most cases, I would consider ego as the separating self. Because the idea of ego is to represent the self that differentiates you from the rest. It defines the I among we. It outlines the uniqueness of each individual. It is how we define our self-worth in most cases.
Here’s the challenge I see with ego gone rogue. We live in a world of people. Human beings are termed as social animals. Our world is built upon interdependence. So meeting and interacting with other people is something we have to do every day. Most of these interactions are normal. They don’t cause us stress or require additional thought or effort. However every once in a while we meet someone who is extremely challenging to deal with. I, and perhaps every single one of us, has dealt with a few such people.
These people are normal (good?) people. But they believe they are fundamentally different that us. They have a sense of self-worth that is highly discriminating towards others. They believe they should be respected for money, power, the nature of our relationships with them or all of these factors combined. It is the ego in these cases that is making these people act in a way I find stressful. They have a sense of entitlement. They believe that the world has to bow down to them because they are they.
The ego forces you to establish concepts within your mind that creates an artificial divide mentally. On one side is you and very few individuals and the whole world is on the other side. The side that you are on is good, right or has a moral high ground you believe. It seems to them that there is a hard, absolute line that separates them from the others.
When this ego is threatened, it fights back. It fights back viciously at times. It can blind you to every single thing around you and focus on just the fight. The fight to prove you are superior or different. In fact this is what we see around in our world. The ego (not just of people, but of entities both corporate and governmental) has caused suffering and warfare at extreme levels. We still fight for our ideas and kill millions to prove our way of life is right. What we see today, is no different from the crusades of Christianity that butchered millions. Every bit of violence in this world is related to the sense of ego.
We are not born with ego I think personally. I assume that before we take birth, while in the womb, there is no way we can consider ourselves separate. We are part of another living being. Even after we are born, we are completely dependent on people around us for a long time. The initial part of ego formation happens when we learn of culture and religion and countries. We are taught of ideas on how we are separated from others. The separation is at larger groups initially. And slowly our society forces each person to start having their own concept of I. Some people take it a step further. They believe they are superior and act to make sure the world sees them the way they see themselves.
These people have highly developed ego. This ego drives a wedge in any form of interaction where they have to act at level or below other human beings. This concept of accepting others as equal becomes an impossible idea that drives people with huge egos crazy.
Here’s the thing people: we are born, we live and one day we will all die. That one simple truth should be sufficient to break down the biggest egos. However the idea and talk of death is shunned in most culture. I personally believe it needs to be something we teach and embrace as part of our life. If we are all going to end in the exact same way, the idea that we are somehow different seems crazy. No matter who you are, No matter what you do, you will return to the same earth.
Here’s another one: Nothing lasts forever. Be it people, countries, companies, philosophies. The idea of democracy was crazy 200 years ago. It perhaps will still be crazy in another 200 years. The largest human-constructed / human invented entity is only a few thousand years old. In another few thousand years, none of us (maybe barring a few) will be remembered. In a thousand years, languages or cultures or countries as we know may not exist. So your ego forcing you to prove your difference casts perhaps a very minor ripple in this universe. Our fights today, our arguments, our victories and losses will matter nothing much given sufficient time.
Here’s another thing to remember: Very few people can make a difference individually (try naming 10 people who are dead who changed the world). But collectively we can create spaceships and break electrons. That means the each one of us can change the world if we act collectively. If we believe every person to be equal, we can bring change. It is still does not require you to kill your ego. Ego creates your sense of self. You can be different without having to impose an order between you and other people.
To end this long rant: I believe in the idea of middle path. We don’t need to lose our ego and become like bees who are just directed by the queen (not yet anyway). But we do not need to let our egos become so big that they destroy anything and anyone that comes in contact. On that path is destruction and obscurity. Rather we should walk the middle path and channel our energies into believing we are all different but equal and work towards change. If we temper our egos just a bit, lose the drive for power we can change the world.
PS: Adam Smith, who is considered father of modern economics, quotes All for ourselves, and nothing for other people is the motto for most of the powerful people. It is a by-product of a huge ego. It’s time to change that perhaps to Enough for me, and then for others as well.