Every child is born essentially pure, magnificent, yet fragile and unformed. But instead of nurturing this essence, society shrouds it with their prejudices, opinions and biases in a bid to shape the child in their own image.
Gradually these conditionings force us to borrow or construct a false self as a defensive reaction. This false self is our negative ego. Many people spend a lifetime living this false image and trying to fulfill expectations of who they are supposed to be, instead of discovering who they are.
People often confuse this false idea of the self (negative ego) with honor or respect.
But this true self can only be repressed – not obliterated. Hence, sooner or later, this repression becomes the root cause for conflict at work, in relationships, and between countries.
Some of the negative effects of ego include:
1. Weakens collaboration with others – Egotists can’t see beyond their own immediate interests. They overlook the benefits of interdependence and the synergy derived from diversity.
2. Diminishes authenticity – Egoists cannot be authentic, because of the incessant need to protect their image even at the expense of denial. Their fear prevents them from acknowledging and appreciating the gifts of others.
3. Creates a scarcity mindset – Egotism breeds insecurity and jealousy. The fear of losing out increases and others appear as burdens or competitors.
4. Builds barriers to learning – Ego is the latch on a closed mind. Egotists abhor any show of vulnerability and hence are closed to any new learning. Being unable to accept criticism, they cannot gain any insight. Without openness, people lose awareness of what reality is and end up making unreal choices.
5. Promotes fear and distrust. Egotists are always watching fearfully over their shoulders, worrying that someone might overtake them. They want constant attention, sympathy and flattery and make unreasonable demands. This makes them overly competitive, a sore loser, and a perfectionist.
6. Encourage destructive behaviors – Ego in leaders causes them to use humiliation as a destructive tool. While ego in team members causes them to take criticism personally, crushing their motivation and performance.
Recognizing and dropping this false ego means letting go of all that is deceptive or artificial about us, and reclaiming our true magnificence, our positive pride.
The difference between ego and positive pride is well explained in this Serbian proverb: “Be humble, for you are made of earth; be noble, for you are made of stars.”
So while we have the capacity to rise to the stars, we also have to return back to the Earth.
To conclude, when we talk about “I” and “You” we are looking at ourselves as separate from each other, with individual egos. But when we give up our egos “You” and “I” become one. We are transformed. This is the final stage that spirituality aims to bring about in our lives, a goal Sufis aspire to reach.