Ego is not the enemy

Ego is not the enemy

23 February 2016



Trying to get rid of your ego is much like trying to get a particularly sticky bit of chewing gum off your shoe. The more you try to pick it off the more it seems to stick to everything.

I spent quite a few years at one time in my life trying to get rid of my ego. I failed. I guess as I was doing it I had a hunch that I was going to fail but nevertheless I gave it a stab.

Having an ego seems to have got a social judgement wrapped around it. We could insult someone perhaps by describing them as very egotistical. Very me me me.

The idea that we should somehow not be obviously self-interested (which is really what ego is often used to describe) is a tricky notion.

Buddhist teaching offers us the idea of observing and watching our ego rather than trying to actively get rid of it. Paying attention to our ego is one way of making sure that we amplify it.

Ignoring it can be a bit foolish, unless we have some pretty high levels of self awareness.

But get rid of it? Unlikely. And why would we? The ego is a necessary part of ourselves. So we probably all can accept that there is something that we could describe as healthy self-interest.

Self-interest provides the momentum to take care of ourselves, find food, make sure that we get something to drink, clothe ourselves, find good relationships and so on.

No one would say that this was an inappropriately egotistical way of living. We need this kind of focus in order to be functional at certain levels. So we wouldn′t want to get rid of it.

It is argued that compassion and helping people is essentially egotistical. Do I help the old lady to cross the road because it makes me feel good? Well, I certainly don′t feel worse if I′ve helped an elderly person to cross the road. I usually feel a certain feeling that we can describe as pleasure. So I helped her as much for me as I did for her, you could say.

What we tend to do is accept all the normal low-level appropriate expressions of ego but then move to condemnation when we judge that ego is out of control.

It is these overarching activities of the “I” that cause problems. To remove the “I” is not necessarily desirable but to find some balance within it definitely is.

Unless you′re planning to abandon human social life and spend the rest of your days in some kind of solitary retreat you will need your ego in order to make your daily life functional.

There are many spiritual approaches and practices that offer us the opportunity to examine our relationship with the different components of ourselves and the different aspects of ourselves. All of these theories, models, ideas, philosophies and approaches are offering us a way to expand our awareness of our conscious and unconscious human presence.

In contemplating these, we see that it is not the removal of anything that is sought but actually the understanding through awareness of ourselves that is the real possibility.

It is this willingness to bring a curiosity to our human selves in all its aspects that lies at the centre of the possibility for human change. It is a foundation of the kind of coaching that I and my colleagues are involved in.

Most humans’ problems, (and by problems I′m referring here to people′s sufferings, for problems normally are related to suffering, and that suffering is mostly emotional) are changed through this process of self-awareness curiosity.

When people tell me they want help to change it is another way of saying that they want their experience of a situation they are in to be different. Getting rid of their ego, which as I have said above,  I do not believe is possible, is hardly going to be a ‘doable’ solution.

Understanding how their ego works for them and how ideas and beliefs about how the ego functions and operates, will serve them well. Certainly better than just seeing their ego as something that they shouldn′t have and ought to be gotten rid of.