ALL EYES ON ME: THE ERA AND ERROR OF EGO - June 15, 2021
Taking a look at the ego is an important truth to understand if you wish to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As culturally defined, the ego is really our self-importance. Ego draws us away from God and our neighbors and toward ourselves. On the other hand, to deny self by immersing ourselves in Christ moves us beyond ourselves toward the love of God and others. Jesus was discerning in saying that everything boiled down to the Greatest Commandment: Love God and love your neighbor (or near-by) as yourself. When we are in the flow of Spirit, we are living out this commandment. When we are in the grips of the ego, we are not. Christ declares in Luke 9:23 from The Passion Translation that "if you truly desire to be my disciple, you must disown your life completely, embrace my cross as your own, and surrender to my ways." The New Living Translation accentuates "if any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me."
The solution to self-importance is sacrificial humility and meekness.
The ego operates within us and others all the time. Its job is to protect our self-importance and the self-image of ourselves as being superior to others. A common example is in traffic. Imagine all these little egos driving their cars, rushing to where they need to be. When we are simply moving with the traffic and the car in front of me, we are doing fine. We are aligned just like everyone else in a common mission to get to the destination. But when the car behind me tailgates us, we our ego getting into battle position, ready to have it out with the ego impatiently operating the car behind me. “Where are they rushing to? Why do they think they’re so important?” And when that person shifts lanes to try and overtake us, our ego tells us to push the gas a little harder and teach that other ego a lesson: they will not get in front of me and deface my superior position. What ends up happening is the other vehicle gets perhaps one car ahead, not making the progress they’d hoped. My ego feels good about this and when I later pass them in another lane, restoring my superior position, my ego feels even better. There is nothing loving or humble about this scenario.
Beyond the traffic narrative, the ego has a primary role in many the social problems we face as a global family: from wars between tribes and factions to racism and supremacist actions, from nationalism and unjust practices to arguments about government mandates and individual liberties. Consider how many problems in the world are caused by a sense of egoic superiority, whether it’s individual or group superiority. I’m better. We’re superior. As Mother Teresa said, “we have forgotten we belong to each other.” When we acknowledge we are brothers and sisters in the common family of humanity who belong to each other, we step outside of our ego’s protection and preservation of our self-importance.
As expressed by poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in “We Wear The Mask,”
‘We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.”
When we drop the masks, then we care about the value of the other and we begin living the Greatest Commandment of all where we are on a trajectory toward God, where we transcend our small selves and find ourselves part of something larger than what our ego would like us to think. When the ego is the dominant force, the trajectory toward God curves back toward ourselves and we become self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing. It is seldom a simple and subtle reverse course, not as apparent or noticeable.
Modern psychology informs us that the ego is part of our personality, perhaps a necessary evil, helping us function in the reality of the world. But as psychologist Ian Cron once said, “Your personality shows up when your true self doesn’t.” The word personality comes from the Latin persona, which means a mask, like actors would wear in ancient Roman theatre. The personality, which includes the ego, is simply a set of posturing mechanisms, responses, and reactions to what the world expects us to be. In fact, mind studies suggest the ego operates from that “reality principle,” meaning it governs our responses based on what the outer world might dictate or expect. Sometimes that means belittling others to maintain a sense of moral superiority.
The ego plays out in friendships, family relationships, business partnerships and even between nations. No one is immune from its power. This is why it takes the hard work of growing in self-awareness to counteract the nudging and nagging of the ego. To transcend the ego, we must actively take measures to shift the focus from ourselves to others, by intentionally caring for others more, offering a kind word, exercising patience, or spending time with people we care about. That transcendence leads to reflective questions where we ask ourselves, What if my kindness to someone means I might befriend them? What if taking the time to listen to another takes me away from other things I care about? What if someone else’s beliefs challenge my own?
The ego defends and dwells in a dualistic place where it’s “my way or the highway.” Anything that challenges the ego appears to be a threat to one’s entire world.
The whole mission of Christ was to break down these false worlds we’ve built up, the false security systems and masks, and see the larger truth: that there is a love that undergirds all the connections of creation.
All the groups who fight for dominance, the siblings who fight over inheritance, those of varying political factions, governments that exploit the marginalized, the nations who compete to be the ‘best’, and the people driving next to us on the highway, are all part of the same fabric, connected to one another and to one source: the Weaver who wishes to maintain the integrity of the fabric. Just one hole, one stray thread, can begin to unravel the whole thing. As Jesus said, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made” (Mark 2:21).
As I see the ways of the world in the reality of humanity, I sometimes find myself ashamed at humanity’s blindness, at the ways the ego controls so many of us. Yet humanity has done some extraordinary things. Those extraordinary things occur when the true reason for being and becoming emerges, when we are in the flow moving toward love. Love is a word derived from the Sanskrit word that means looking for the good. We put aside our egos when we realize that life is not about my thread, but the whole fabric – and that repairing the fabric affects me too.
When . . . Your agenda is my agenda. Your well-being is my well-being. Your welfare is my welfare. Then we’re finally on a trajectory toward God.
Let's end this . . and embrace who we are created to be, to become and to behold in each other.