The prison of our ego

Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting.  Sydney J. Harris

Superior people are only those who let it be discovered by others; the need to make it evident forfeits the very virtue they aspire to. Sydney J. Harris

A good friend recently began writing his thoughts publicly and in a form that was revealing, unguarded and authentic. He wrote one line toward the conclusion of his piece that captured my own sentiment on the subject – on ending the polarized times in which find ourselves; ” … one way is to find the truth in what the other person is saying.”

Sounds very simplistic. It is obvious right? Why not? Even if they are wrong? Gotcha! My friend wrote that it is hard to accomplish – and it is. It goes against what has been ingrained into us since we were children, since we attended school and grew up socializing within our environs – home and elsewhere. We have attended church, synagogue, mosque or temple listening to the parochial discourses within that respective assemblage or merely subjugated to the atheistic or agnostic idiosyncrasies of others close to us. We learned and absorbed – a lot.


And when our “knowledge” or subjectivity is challenged, our ego awakens and we steadfastly hold on to our entrenched positions. I have seen this first hand attending vulgar and violent rallies across Canada, witnessed it over political debate including the omnipresent social media variety where nary the opposition voice or word sways an opinion and sadly – I have observed this within families. How many of our dear friends or loved ones so resolutely clutch on to their predisposed opinion so much so that the relationship itself is being challenged? And to be authentic about this matter, how often do we see it is as “us” who are implacably stubborn? This breeds intolerance, it fosters enmity and accompanied with back and forth or tit for tat recriminations. The US Presidential elections are Exhibit One as a prime example. In what way can we ever move forward and approach civility, rapprochement and stem all this anger if we don’t somehow abandon the encumbering armour of ego and I dare say – superiority?

Superiority. It is a fascinating display of one who possesses or has characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). We have no doubt seen some of this in others.

The Mayo Clinic has in layman’s terms defined NPD: “A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism. If you have NPD, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious, you often monopolize conversations, you may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior, and you may feel a sense of entitlement (when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry). At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.”

Most of us despite our imperfections are nowhere near possessing NPD – I want to simply illustrate a point. But negative personality traits such as those described by the Mayo Clinic are evident all around us – especially nowadays on social media.

Clearly YOU are not absolutely right nor are YOU absolutely wrong. The opinion-holder of your opposite viewpoint should be viewed likewise.

Let’s start from there. What if we really did begin from that point? If we can ease off on the ego and allow some humility to seep into our thoughts, wouldn’t that would be a wonderful genesis towards our common goal? It is a common goal is it not? For somewhere within that opposing viewpoint to ours, there must be some element therein that we can say with all sincerity and authenticity that they are correct.

Can we try and see the truth in what another is saying? And if we are not yet ready for that, can we at least acknowledge the role that our ego has in our lives?

7 thoughts on “The prison of our ego

  1. This is an interesting piece, Stuart. I would be the first to admit to having an ego and, truthfully, I would hope everyone does. Feeling you have some knowledge and the confidence to express it is not a bad thing. Being, as you point out, intolerant of opposing views is child-like. We don’t have to look far to see such children in adult bodies. I believe it is very evident on what has become ‘social media for the aging’, Facebook. The kids have deserted it for Snapchat. They (and I) no longer post opinions. There’s a herd of keyboard road warriors out there constantly screaming (literally). Imagine Canadian supporters of one U.S. Presidential candidate or another…jackasses without a vote, no dog in the hunt…yet they ‘unfriend’, belittle, chastise others for different views. I’ve said this before: being able to express an opinion doesn’t mean there’s worthy thought behind it. Too many are doing little more than poorly masking their own inferiority complexes.

    • I have an ego as well Peter. I admit I did not focus on the positive attributes of an ego in this piece and there are many for sure and to be admired too. My friend’s blog on polarization spurred me on to only view and write about the negative consequences of what I saw as ego driven. And your comment on inferiority – I am in full and loud agreement. Thanks again Peter,

  2. Stuart, I too have spent most of my life having an inflated sense of my own importance, and thereby losing the opportunity to learn from others. I hope to change that – quickly.

    Thanks for a beautiful (as ever) post!

  3. I really get everything you are saying in this post and I agree – and its well timed as well. Humility does require an amount of setting aside your own thoughts and feelings and that is maybe not so much “difficult” for a lot of people but I think its more that they just don’t want to.

    It is so much easier to go through life making yourself the center of your world – and “easier” is probably going to be the winner for most people, most of the time.

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