Elsewhere on the internet today, someone asked a question about why it seems like everyone is hating the ego these days. What I thought would originally be a short response turned out to be a little more involved – since I think this question and my response to it would fit here, I’m posting it :-)
“Funny how words get changed over the years. ‘Ego’ at its root simply refers to the self.
I think the problem is more with inflated egos than with ego itself; and I think a lot of people don’t understand the difference … it’s a sort of mass knee-jerk reaction, where people hear about the dangers of inflated and overly-gratified egos and think elimination of the ego is the best solution. I knew a man once who tried to kill a mosquito with a shotgun – it’s much the same with ego. There is also a trend in Western society to embrace elements of Eastern philosophy; which to some extent advocates an attempt to eliminate the ego. The attempt, like any attempt toward the ideal, is not designed to succeed – however through the process of attempting, the ego achieves a lesser state of gratification (this is why I say that Eastern philosophy advocates the elimination of ego ‘to some extent’).
In Western philosophy, the school of Stoicism, to which I adhere, pursues not the eradication of ego, but rather the replacement of the selfish ego with a more altruistic focus. This seems to me to be more in line with my concept of what is Natural … we all have an ego, it is a part of our Natural condition, and trying to sweep it under a rug and pretend like we don’t have one tends to solve nothing. I prefer the approach that allows this to be, yet focuses on ways to make the ego lean and healthy, rather than inflated to a point where it can serve no purpose other than its own continued inflation. Consumerism is, therefore, anathema for me – it does little more than promote excessive ego gratification for the purpose of making money that doesn’t belong to us anyway.
From psychology, we often hear about the perils of narcissism, and I’ve seen in a lot of places where people are confusing pathological narcissism with hyped-up egos … actually, the converse is true, as clinical narcissists tend to have egos that are locked in the darkest dungeons of their psyches. Such people find it difficult, if not impossible, to receive gratification from within and must therefore seek it from external sources. In a society fixated on consumerism, where there is a mass knee-jerk reaction that tries to vilify the ego and shame people for having one, it’s scarce wonder why narcissism seems to be getting closer to epidemic status.”