Is it desirable not to have any ego? I feel that some amount of ego is essential for a person to live with dignity. It brings with it many positive emotions and qualities like pride, self-confidence and self-respect. These are all qualities that make a person live with dignity and contentment. Giving up the ‘good’ ego can make one vulnerable to hurt and invite uncaring people to walk all over one.
However, a very fine line divides the positive aspects of ego from its other negative qualities: envy, suspicion, anger, greed, self-importance, superiority complex, vengefulness, taking offence at being ignored, and more. This line is crossed when one carries the positive emotions beyond a certain limit, making it difficult for both the person harbouring them, as well as those living with them.
For all its gigantic proportions, ego is a rather fragile emotion and needs the other baser emotions listed above to bolster and protect it from shattering. With all these negative qualities present in an egoist, little wonder that people try to stay on their safer side by pandering to their egos, and building them up into something larger than they are. This only bloats the ego further and a vicious cycle is set off. It is funny how, most people with bloated egos swear that they have no ego, little realising that statement itself is an affirmation.
If one wants to advance spiritually, one needs to give up the ego and subsume the ‘I’ into the Supreme to achieve oneness with it. It is important to give up ownership of our actions, both good and bad, as we are mere instruments of the Supreme to carry out the actions. All our scriptures, starting with Bhagavad Gita, emphasise this as the first step of spiritual ascension. This requires rigorous spiritual practice and is well beyond most of us. But try we must, for our own good. The Mother’s quote below especially touched me.
That apart, it is definitely within our capacity to tame a misplaced ego, which gives us a false perception of ourselves and comes with a host of unwanted baggage, for it prevents prevents us from having successful relationships and leading fulfilling lives. The trick is to be vigilant and nip it in the bud.
Let me tell you about the narrow escape I had from such a fate. Somehow without my realising it, I had crossed the fine line and never realised how my ego was affecting others.
I have always prided myself on being independent and self-sufficient, not depending on help from others if I can help it. Not just that, but I verbalised the feeling, not realising the edge of ahankara. I had nervous energy, very strong willpower and youth on my side, which helped me overcome many health problems to manage everything to near perfection – for a long time. Needless to say, it was a long time ago or at least it feels that way now.
All that changed several years back with severe vision problems that necessitated my curtailing a lot of activities. Activities, which I had done without a second thought till then. The first casualty had been my driving. Only those who drive (or have driven) a vehicle, even a bicycle, would know that it is the most liberating feeling ever. It gives the rider/driver a sense of immense freedom and control, even as the person navigates the roads. So, it had been a bitter blow to my ego and took me many months to come to terms with the handicap. I couldn’t be out after dusk, as it became difficult to move around without stumbling or bumping into people or over things. Slowly, I came to accept the limitations and still fiercely independent, began working around them. The family, reluctant and apprehensive at first, accepted it and didn’t stop me, knowing I would be careful.
In my need to be independent and to prove a point to myself (and others), I never gave any thought to how those close to me would feel when I routinely rejected their proffered help. I will never forget the evening I was getting into an auto-rickshaw to go to meet someone urgently. The elder daughter offered to go along, and I told her that I would be fine since it was just an auto ride to and fro.
What she told me brought me up short and has stayed with me till today: ‘I know you are capable of doing things by yourself, but we feel good to do them for you.’
How presumptuous had I been! How supremely smug in my own capabilities, enough to rebuff loving assistance from my dear ones!
I have since learnt to ask for help when something is beyond me. I am also firm in refusing the same when I know I can take care of things by myself without being foolhardy and trying to prove a point.
For instance, after I had had my chain snatched, my family wanted me to stop going out alone, but I refused. After all, it was not because of my vision problem that it had happened as any number of chain snatching cases happening to everyone. The simple solution was to not wear a gold chain or expensive jewellery while going out. Had I buckled under pressure, it would have robbed me of my confidence in myself. Thank God, the family came around.
There were other things about myself and my achievements, of which I had a flawed perception bordering on a bloated ego. I slowly went over each, worked on them and cut them to size if not uprooted them entirely. I am grateful to the daughter for helping me see things in the proper perspective, with that one heartfelt remark.
By the grace of God, I am learning to balance the fine line between being presumptuous and abjectly dependent. It is a work in progress as ahankara is a relentless asura, rearing its head now and then.
With self-promotion being the order of the day, even something as facile as approbation in the form of ‘likes’ on social media platforms is designed to pander to the ego, so much so that the number of followers and ‘friends’ are often used as a measure for one’s social worth.
Talking of social media, it has been several weeks since I have been off them, without actually deactivating my accounts. I have not only not missed being around but also feel in control since I am voluntarily staying away. The motivation to make forays there has simply vanished. I am completely disillusioned with them. Far from being spaces where healthy dialogues should take place on a variety of topics, they have become places where the platform’s algorithms control my words or shadow ban even someone as insignificant as me. Also, ‘friends’ flock to your timeline only when you post some picture or something provocative or personal. I felt that I might as well privately share such posts with my handful of friends instead of sharing them online.
And oh, my ego has been cut down to size too, with my absence having largely gone unnoticed, except for a handful of friends who reached out through mutual friends, called, or mailed to find out if all was well with me!
I would love to hear about your experience with ego and how you deal with it.