Series on Happiness: #3 Tame your ego with humility and then let it shine


In my previous posts, I have talked about how we are able to love others despite our current predicaments and how we are often haunted by the shadows of our childhood. In this post, I will focus on the factor that can make or break us when it comes to leading our lives happily and successfully: our egos.

The term “ego” is a very challenging term to define, even for a psychologist or a communication specialist. This is because ego is a multifaceted concept. This post merely focuses on the psychological and to a certain degree, spiritual aspects of it. I am using the term “ego” and “self” interchangeably for this article since our egos create the self. Or rather, our egos ARE our self. When we look at common literature in the market, we can be confused about the concept of ego since some literature encourages us to be more assertive (thus emphasising the self) while others – especially for most books on spirituality – encourages us to hide our egos (I have chosen to use the word “hide” instead of the phrase “getting rid of our ego” because our egos always stays with us. It’s merely a matter of whether we are acknowledging it. That’s all). I feel that both techniques won’t work because they border on the extreme ends of the ego spectrum.

Let me provide you with an example.

Many years ago, I have attended a seminar session with one of my good friends. At the entrance, we are politely greeted by two gentlemen who were seated at one of the tables registering the incoming guests. When one of the two men asked for my friend’s name, my friend didn’t hear his request. The man who has requested for my friend’s name then responded with a rather curt statement “Boy, I have asked for your name”. My friend was somewhat taken aback and immediately replied him. This is a very good example of someone who asserts his ego aggressively and arrogantly, which is never a good thing. Because it damages relationships. When one does this, they may get what they want in the short term, but they never get far when it comes to relationship building or rapport-building in the long run. And a callous display of one-upmanship is always detrimental to communication in any situation or environment. We will never be happy in such situations. We are born equal and should always be treated as equals.

Now, let’s consider the outcome when we rid ourselves of our egos using the same scenario just described. Now instead of making a statement, the man who has requested for my friend’s name – wanting to hide his ego – does not assert himself and instead choose to stay silent after my friend has failed to respond to him (which is more of an oversight than a deliberate attempt at avoidance), he immediately lost the opportunity to get my friend’s name. And when we consider that the man’s job is to register participants for the workshop, he has apparently failed in his job. So, not asserting our egos does not work either. People who hide their egos compromise their ability to succeed in life and do not give their personality an opportunity to shine.

So, what can we do? We should strike a balance. An appropriate response to the scenario above will be “Hi boy, I’m sorry that I did not get your name just now. Will you care to repeat it for me?” What is so special about this sentence? There are several reasons. Firstly, the term “hi” expresses a friendly greeting, always a precursor to successful communication. Then there’s the apology component which – while on the surface seems to bring one’s social status down- has the effect of not blaming others, another ingredient for rapport-building. This is a good example of managing our egos (acknowledging our existence by speaking up but never putting blame on or asserting our rights over others). The phrase “will you care” indicates that we are treating any subsequent response from the other party as a favour and not an obligation. This response may be more favourably received in a collectivistic culture (hiding one’s ego) rather than an individualistic one (emphasising one’s ego), but it works extremely well when it comes to communication.

Does this mean that we have to adapt to a collectivistic mindset whenever we are communicating? The answer is no. At times, we have to adopt the individualistic mindset. It depends on the situation. When we are making a request, a collectivistic mindset (others before self) works best since we are making efforts to establish common grounds between ourselves and other parties so that we are able to better communicate (as illustrated in the scenario above). However, when we are embarking on an endeavour or feel that our time is being consumed too rapidly by others, we need to adopt the individualistic mindset (self before others).

Now, let’s have a look at another situation to illustrate how the concept of individualistic mindset works.

George has always been successful during job interviews and he has often secured a job during the first/second interviews. And he is a happy person because his happiness is built on his confidence, which is established by his successes. Many people wondered how George managed to be so successful while others have failed. And George’s response? He has always been assertive in interviews while not being aggressive. Through the way he words his responses and the fact that he always displays his strengths, George always impress his interviewer while not sounding arrogant or intimidating. What do I mean by this?

Well, consider a response such as this:

“I have managed to spearhead 50 logistics operations in 15 multinational companies (MNCs) within a short time span of 2 months and I have 15 years of experience in the logistic sector. So tell me. How can you not hire me when there’s no reason not to?”

This statement is not only aggressive and boastful. It is in fact downright arrogant.

Now, consider the following response:

“I have the opportunity to spearhead various logistics operations in 15 multinational companies with 15 years of experience. Therefore, I feel that I am suited for this position that I applying for and I hope that you will give my application due consideration.”

Now, I have deliberately retained (but reduce) the numbers and statistics in this revised response to highlight the fact that there is nothing wrong with using statistics on your resume or your interview responses. It’s just that moderation is key. But this is not the important point. The crucial point about this revised response is that the person has managed to state his capabilities and differentiate himself apart from other job candidates using more of an individualist mindset (self before others). This response allows one’s ego to be shown and yet with humility thrown in (the terms “create” and “hope” give others this impression. Of course, one must use such terms with the utmost sincerity).

Now, another situation where we should bring our egos or rather, our self to the fore is when our time becomes not our own. While it is always good to dedicate some of our time to altruistic activities and charitable endeavours, there are some individuals whom we will inevitably meet in life that will continuously demand for our time, to the extent that we run out of time to pursue our own interests and life goals. In this case, we should adopt the individualistic mindset by learning to say “no”. When we say no, we should have an awareness that it’s our ego speaking, but it’s our healthy egos that are talking. And we should listen to it this time.

Coming back to the subject on ego, I will like to make a statement:

Our egos are in us and always will be with us. In fact, it’s a part of us. It’s that little internal voice in our heads. We might try to ignore its existence but it’s always there, merely buried by our conscious, waiting to be discovered once again. Our egos are just like our inner child or even our own children. How they turn out in life depends on what we feed them with.  It never dies. If we choose to groom ego with arrogance and self-importance, it will not be long before it rears its ugly head. If we choose to nurture it with love and gratitude, it will serve us well in life. Our egos are never an easy thing to tame but we must, if we want to succeed in life and communication. More importantly is the fact that our happiness – to a large degree – hinges on our egos. When we use our egos to do good for the world, we have chosen happiness. When we use our egos to gain the rights to our own entitlements and to intimidate others, we will be choosing unhappiness. Our search for happiness never stagnates. It’s either we are moving towards it or we are spiralling downwards, and away from it. Ultimately, it’s our choice.

The examples provided above are not exhaustible and I am sure you are able to identify other incidents in your lives that relate to your ego. As we progress through life, we will notice that our egos have a large part to play in our successes and failures in life, and hence our happiness. In fact, our ego may well be the determining factor. So, in whatever things that we do, it will be good to always keep a tab on our egos.

In my next post, I will talk about how we can achieve happiness merely by accepting things that we can’t change in life. So, do stay tuned.


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