This is the 4th installment of my “ego” series. The first three were:
Selfishness is another dimension of the ego. I have been accused of selfishness numerous times. My selfishness stemmed from my determined efforts to escape the mundane. It seems that I always invent more important things to do to avoid shopping or household chores.
Even sitting for meditation can be an act of selfishness. I have been accused of being selfish about the time I take for my spiritual advancement too.
Our own acts of selfishness may look innocent to us but they may not be that innocent when seen from the other person’s perspective. I can think of thousands of innocent selfish acts. Let me give you just one random example. When I am the first one to arrive at a revolving door (typically they make these doors very heavy) I push the door extra hard so that the person behind me does not have to push as hard. I observed countless times in New York City that when there is a person in front of me that person selfishly waits for me to push the door. Are human beings this petty? I don’t want to take it to the extreme and claim that the Western culture is an ego driven, narcissistic and selfish culture. That would not be fair because I have also witnessed the humanity of New Yorkers during September 11, 2001. New Yorkers demonstrated heroism that day. People did not panic and helped each other as much as possible. I suppose during times of crisis humanity shines brightly. During the normal daily struggle, however, people can be very selfish. I would also add that there is something about the big cities and the crowded areas that encourage selfish behavior. Petty selfishness is mostly habitual and instinctual. Petty selfishness is based on our animal instincts.
Allow me to give you one more random example just to show you that selfishness is not unique to the Western world. I have noticed many times in Istanbul that women, especially the upper class women, cut in lines. The reasons for their behavior are more complicated. The reasons have something to do with their feelings of entitlement based on their assumed class—not like the caste system in India, but unspoken classes based on economic power—in society.
The feeling of entitlement is very poisonous. There are many forms of it. People who are raised in the Eastern or the Middle-Eastern countries suffer from this disease all their lives. In the Eastern culture, education entitles you to certain privileges in society. In the Middle East, university professors enjoy respect and many other privileges whether they are good in their jobs or not. In the Western society university professors do not enjoy the same privileges. On the contrary, they suffer crude judgments such as “those who cannot do, teach.” I remember my own feelings of entitlement regarding my Ph.D. degree. I felt that I deserved a certain amount of respect from other people because of that piece of paper. I was completely wrong. The Western society taught me the proper lessons. I admire the Western society for that.
I gave education as an example but obviously the seriousness of this issue in the Eastern societies goes beyond education. The class mentality is deeply rooted in the Eastern societies. The family you are born into determines your fate to a large degree.
Sometimes our selfishness is caused by a weakness. Sometimes we are overwhelmed, tired or exhausted. We are human beings after all. We are not perfect. In moments of weakness we can be very selfish.
Sometimes you have to be selfish to protect yourself. There are territorial situations in life. You have to protect your territory. It can be a land, it can be a country, or it can be a position in a corporation. If you do not protect your territory it will be taken away from you.
In order to finish great projects, to do research, or to write a book you have to be selfish. Great projects take great sacrifice. People close to you will suffer from your dedication to your ideals.
It is easy to identify petty selfishness but it is not so easy to make judgment on other forms of selfishness. My message on ego is to say that the best strategy regarding it is to ‘know ego’ rather than to fight it. When you know your ego, you can represent it as you wish and be honest about it. Your honesty will attract others who agree with you in your honesty. Or you will attract others who will provide a contrasting view and help you better examine the hold of your ego upon you—the way that it influences you in behaviors both positive and negative.