The word “ego” is commonly understood as referring to a part of the human psychological experience which is undesired, shameful, and dare I say evil. We understand ego as being built into us through our exposure to interpersonal, social and cultural experiences in our early years, and which we should aim to get rid of in order to free ourselves. In some circles, ego is credited to be a necessary evil; its source is explained as having a positive intention, serving a purpose, and some work needs to be done to “integrate it” fully into one’s character, rather than getting rid of it. This is a more empowering way to deal with it, however the understanding of ego as an undesired presence that every one of us must grapple with keeps leaking through.
First, let’s define the term. My understanding of ‘ego’ here is not meant to be an academic one. I am referring to the intangible construct in the human psyche which relates to the intersection of how we consider ourselves, how we see the world and how we define our place in relation to it. In other words, it is how we articulate to ourselves and others our own personal sense of who we are, in the shape of a vast collection of conscious and unconscious narratives, beliefs and emotional patterns.
In my work and my exploration of different messages and teachings regarding the matter of helping human beings live a more grounded and empowering life, I have come to consider that ego is part of the design. When we understand it as a construct embedded in the human psyche to build a sense of self-definition, when we see it as that filter through which one does life, then is there any valid reason to attempt to destroy it?
Rather, I would actually have this filter, this mask, this persona, be inspiring to myself and others and put in service of a grandiose use for the wider community. This is where I get to proactively shape who I am being.
But when it comes to showing up in the world, often the above is not the form of ego we are witnessing. What we see are egos that are not pulling people up. What we are confronted with are self-gratifying egos. These are egos that foster self-aggrandisement and self-importance in the defence of the one right way, rather than advocates for an opening to the diversity of paths that exist. The problem raised by many around ego is that accumulating power and influence is seen as a destructive force which encroaches on others’ freedom – sometimes life – through ruthless competition and conflict. But as I understand it, this is not a problem of ego per se. The problem comes when said accumulation of power is based on or stemming from insecure ego structures.
Far from being something to get rid of in one way or another, could ego actually be shaped in a proactive and conscious way for the greater benefit of all involved? Could ego become a wonderful beacon of light for others and for oneself, in service of other egos that are currently hiding in the darkness, unable to rise above their insecure origins and too ashamed to own the brilliant contribution they can make to others?
I believe it can, and I believe this is the best personal work we can do. Rather than fighting ego, I think we ought to understand it and make it a friend, not just our own personal friend at the expense of others, but the friend of the people around us too, the people we don’t yet know and the wider community of life.
Is our sense of identity bound to subscribe to an “Us vs. Them” paradigm? Equally, to experience connection with others and to step into pure service, do we need to kill ego and become (literally) self-less?
I like to think “no” is a rightful answer to both of these questions.
I think we have the power to consciously craft and shape and design this internal construct through which we view ourselves and the world, this “ego” through which we do life. This is the process by which we can become the best version of who we could be. This is what I like to think Marianne Williamson was referring to when she said:
“It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us”
Shaping who you are in that way requires that you commit to taking ownership and responsibility for your way of being in the world. It means to take on to create for and serve your community, whilst keeping an eye on where you are coming from as you do so. It means to pursue bigger dreams and aspirations whilst not making it a personal self-gratifying and self-important victory. It’s simple, but not easy. I’m nowhere near done. I’m on the path. I’m tripping over some roots in the ground. I’m getting hit in the face by branches. I sometimes wonder whether I’m walking on the right trail.
But I trust that I’m moving forward and that each step brings its own reward.