Taming the ego
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
This is about the nature of reality and ego. It is important to understand that ego serves a purpose to an extent. After all, it preserves the illusion of separateness required for our lessons here. We have separate karma, so the ego is necessary to conduct that business.
The ego, however, can get out of control, as we all know. The worst example is in academics. The egos collide and nothing becomes certain, and in science it becomes destructive since many theories don’t even make it to the lab due to ego involvement. That holds back our civilization more than any ego problems except those of collective egos of countries.
The governance exists to solve so many human and ecological problems. However, the ego creates the greed factor and stupid usually rules. With collective ego authority like in the case of divided countries, there is usually a war-like problem. One country’s ego is bigger than the other country’s ego.
Patriotism is a severe form of collective egoism run amok. Everything that doesn’t sound patriotic is anti-government according to the norm but it’s crazy. One country just thinks it’s exceptional – better than another, then that gives their collective ego an excuse to wipe out the other country. We see this everywhere: the entitled killing or taking the land of the less egoistic country.
The ego has the purpose of motivating and learning, and the pride or shame we feel associated with it is a learning experience. I’m not saying we don’t need egos, we just need to not be controlled by them. We need to not take anything personally. That’s where all the trouble begins: assumptions of attacks against the ego, whether it’s collective or personal. It has to stop.
The Buddhists are correct, in my view, to try and overcome the ego, but it is very difficult. Just imagine that you think you are your body and your ego is hurting because your body isn’t right according to current standards. Then you are simply miserable because you feel you are not right because you mistake yourself for a body. That’s just one example of how ego can make you miserable. There are so many others.
It’s an ideal of some practices to diminish or conquer the ego. That is a good idea. That would be nice if we were monks practicing our faith all day, but we are just ordinary people with fragility. The best way to not be offended is, of course, to realize that everyone is connected ultimately. It is just our egos which separate us. Imagine the freedom of not caring what others think of you. You could do whatever legal thing you felt like in your field of profession or in your fun life. The best idea, I think, is not to eradicate the ego, but to control it. That right there would make us all happier people.
Illustration by Genevieve Freeman