What is Ego?

“When the Ego dies, the soul awakens.”
– Gautama Buddha

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

One day Buddha, according to his daily routine, finished his morning meditation and preaching to his disciples (students), and was returning to his hut. On the way, one of his oldest disciples approached him and said, “Buddha, I feel I have learnt every aspect, and I know more than anyone in this ashram. I should be given an opportunity to go out and preach to people”. Buddha looked at the disciple, smiled and replied, “People confuse ego with self-respect”.

Personally, even today, I do not feel I know more than others. There is an opportunity to learn, every day. Ego puts an end to learning. With Ego, you start to believe that you know better than others. If you want to be the best teacher, first learn to let your Ego out of your mind.

Let us understand what Ego is. According to the dictionary, ego is “a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”. It is also an attitude we develop in ourselves and by which others identify us. Every individual has an Ego, but the point is, how do we handle it?

It is a general perception that people become egoistic when they achieve heights in life. The position they hold in society, the job role they have and how influential they are, play a big role in the development of a person’s Ego.

When people are in their early stages of learning, they are humble and polite. When they achieve what they are aspiring for, ego slowly kicks in. This happens with most people. An example statement could be, “that person was great until he became a manager; there is a big change in his attitude after he got promoted”.

Ego is also about the competitions people get into, knowingly or unknowingly. Some people buy expensive suits to show off that their suit is better than their friends’. That nature of buying expensive stuff, is to satisfy one’s Ego, to feel and to show that you are doing better than others. Trying to look better than people around you, showing off what you have etc. could hurt others Ego, build a point of conflict etc. In short, building a strong Ego could become a recipe for self-destruction.

Ego could lead to any kind of destruction, sometimes self and sometimes in relation to others. Let us talk about the classic example of Hitler. His Ego created such huge devastation in the world. Almost the whole world got into a war, which no one can ever forget. A small ego which was nurtured and supported by people, made it grow within him. It boiled over into such a huge sense of hatred, towards a community of people that it spread world-over. His Ego was so huge that he didn’t even care for lives, he put his ego ahead of everything, making him one the worst dictators the world has ever seen. It destroyed half of the world, and it also destroyed him. We all know the story…

There are two main types of Egos. One which we build for ourselves and the other which is seeded in us by people around us. The Egos built by oneself are those with an “I” and negative emotions attached to it, where people feel, “I’m the best”, “I know it all”, “I have studied it, and I know it well” etc. attitudes. The second type of Ego is something which people around us, feed us with. When they make statements like, “You were right, why do you want to give up in front of others?”, “You are better than them, you should lead.” etc, tend to build ego within you, without you realising it. Be wary of the comments which you take to heart, when others are praising you.

Does this mean Ego is bad? The answer is subjective to the situation. Every individual has an Ego, but it’s more important how we handle it, knowing when to suppress and when to unleash it. Which means, wherever you are, Ego is too. Ego is bad when it’s used in a bossier way, when it ends creativity and when it’s more of self-assessment. It also puts you in such competition with others, that it shuts all doors for you. Little Ego is good when you get something done for the good of society or people at large.

Eminent business leaders who have been highly successful in life, know the art of handling ego very well. They know when to unleash and when to suppress and when to embrace it. Some of the greatest leaders kept their Ego aside when they faced the common man, they listened to them and tried to understand them. They tried to do their best to help them too. Some of the examples are Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha, and in modern times, Ratan Tata, Warren Buffett, Dalai Lama and many more.

The more dangerous of the 2 types of ego, is the one which is planted by others. Ego planted by others is more like you’re not sure about it, but you still start believing in it. Such beliefs could create more harm than good. It could also instigate bitter experiences in life. Do not heed to Ego boosters.

As Ryan Holiday has mentioned in his book, Ego is the Enemy, it is important to be :

  • Humble in our aspirations
  • Gracious in our successes
  • Resilient in our failures

This will let our Ego out and bring enlightenment in life.

Even when we look at the current world situation, where we are facing such a big crisis, Ego is playing a huge role. The Ego of many world leaders supersedes the interests of humanity. It’s time that the leaders give up their Ego and work towards a single cause, saving humanity. More than the virus, the Ego of leaders, is killing a lot of people. Because of this, we are also staring at a bigger food crisis. We will overcome it, but at what cost is the question. If we let go of Ego and work towards a common goal, this may not become as bad an issue as we think it will be.

How easy is it to let go of Ego? It is easy if you build perseverance and you are committed. Become aware of what are the egoistic thoughts in your mind. It could be hidden behind the feelings of anxiety, anger, guilt, dissatisfaction etc. So, it is important to understand your emotions to know the Egoistic feelings you are going through. Once you have the awareness, you can think of the consequences. This will help you let go off the Ego and lead a happy life. Living in the present moment could keep you away from building Ego.

Never treat anyone differently because of the role they play in society and the position they hold. Talk with the same feelings with everyone, starting from the security guard at your office to your boss (it’s the personal feeling, not the professional work). Treat everyone equally, as a human soul. Have the mindset to listen to people and always think good about others. Doing things with a selfless motive is one of the best ways to learn to manage Ego. It’s not always about the name and fame around what you do.

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