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The Truth About Ego

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Mankarnika Ghat: Death the only truth without an ego (C) Vivek Mehra

Indian philosophy has long held: where ego reigns supreme, truth is lost or has no relevance. Seers advise us that one should be humble to be able to receive the truth. But what happens to ego when you possess ‘the truth’?

Truth isn’t an abstract concept that lies shrouded in mystery or is the privilege of a few seekers. Truth is around you. A lie is also someone else’s truth. It is a belief about knowledge and its possession by the believer. The belief provides comfort that the knowledge possessed by the believer is the one that exists as fact. The fact lies proven by what the believer believes and what he projects as being universally acceptable. Sounds complicated?

Here is a simple illustration. You are walking down the street and you see a car moving really slowly and about to come to a halt at the traffic light. A speeding cyclist comes from the driver’s blindside and before the car can stop, the car hits the cyclist. The speed of the cycle ensures the impact is severe. Given the mass of the car, it’s the cycle that takes a hammering. The cyclist falls down and is hurt. You see this clearly and know that the cyclist is at fault. A crowd gathers at the accident scene and another person who apparently didn’t see it the way it happened or the way you saw it happen, starts shouting at the car driver. The car driver tries to protest but the crowd heckles him. You believe in your heart that the car driver is in the right. The cyclist was in the wrong. You voice your view and you are shouted down. A small minority join you, then seeing the raised voices of the group, they quieten down. You linger for a while then decide to leave.

Here are possibilities that are going through your mind

1.    How could they do this to the car driver? You clearly see him as the one who is right

2.    How come no one listened to you? You were an eye-witness and you were right

3.    How could that group shout at you? You have your self-respect (you are someone) and you need to get the truth known to others

In such a situation, the ego rules supreme and ‘truth’ is forgotten. Chances are as a human being, your ego is bruised by no one listening to you more than you believing the wrong should be corrected. That is the ego about truth.

I encounter this within me and keep wondering what I really want out of knowing the truth. I go through a sea of emotions. Here are some of the thoughts that hover around me.

Why can’t everybody see what I am seeing so clearly?  

Why am I not being listened to?

Why is the ‘liar’ or ‘crook’ the one everyone wants to listen to?

There are no easy answers to these questions but then there is another set of questions that helps me find answers.

Why should everybody see it the way I see it?

Why is it so important that everyone listen to me?

Why is the ‘crook’ not a ‘crook’ in the eyes of the others?

As a part of being the person I am, there is a constant battle between the principles I stand for and what I see around me. It makes me wonder about myself. Do I stand for my principles OR Do I stand for the affirmation and adulation that ‘could’ come my way because of the principled person ‘I think’ I am? There is a thin line between being principled and being seen as being principled. The problem is with ego getting in the way. I find myself asking the question, Am I upset that I am not being viewed in the same way as I view myself OR are my principles being questioned? I have found that most times, my grief stems from the former. I find myself being upset because I am not being put on to the pedestal that I have put myself on.

There are two clear sets of people who can either massage your ego or rub it the wrong the way. Those that are socially or professionally below you and those that are socially or professionally at par with you. The ones that are superior, you generally put on a pedestal anyway. It is your pedestal that is most important to you and that is where the hurt stems from.

Among the two groups I find the ones ‘below’ the ones that are following your principle of putting their ‘superior’ on a pedestal. So, you are put on a pedestal and your ego is massaged. The truth you speak of is accepted without any challenge and ‘everything feels right’. It is the group of equals that can massage or bruise your ego no matter what truth you possess. It is this possession of the truth that causes people to be who they are. Going back to the crime I described earlier, there are a few other ways of looking at the entire incident.

Suppose you were to examine the ‘leader’ of the group who was accusing the car driver to find out why he was so sure about his accusations. There could be many answers you would find. Here are some possibilities.

1.    He clearly saw, from his viewpoint, that the car driver didn’t really hit the brakes. The cyclist wasn’t traveling as fast as you perceived it to be.

2.    The car driver was actually not stopping but about to accelerate because the traffic light was yellow and not yet red. This is the way the ‘leader’ saw it

3.    The ‘leader’ was wronged by a car driver in the past and he now believes all car drivers are wrong.

4.    The ‘leader’ believes it is his moral duty to help the weaker sections. Here a cycle being weaker than a car.

5.    He doesn’t really care about the car or the cycle, he loves the attention he is getting.

So what about the ‘crowd’; why do you think they are silent spectators? While writing this piece I paused and took a break and picked up today’s newspaper. I read the story of a man hacked to death in broad daylight while people filmed him. The story shocked my sense of righteousness and the horror that humans could be passive bystanders when another is losing his life. But it brought it home to me. Whether in a group or as individuals we remain centered around our ego. We don’t get into conflict until we are directly harmed or affected. In a group, we seek comfort in the way the majority views truth. We don’t want to ‘be the one’ who stands out from the crowd. It doesn’t matter that the person wielding the machete is wrong. We as individuals won’t tell him that. It is the same when in a group where a common issue is at stake. Each one has his own perception of the truth. The one with the stronger belief in the ‘truth’ is the one who wants his point of view to become the common one. It doesn’t matter if the speaker has any credibility or not. The louder the voice, the truer the truth.

I have many reasons to question Aamir Khan (the actor) and the stands he has taken in the past. But there is one stand of his that I truly admire him for. He doesn’t attend a single film awards function, he doesn’t care if his movies are nominated or not and he is least bothered about who wins what award or who gives out the award. His cinema speaks for itself. His detractors may whine, but they cannot ignore the power his work demonstrates. He goes about focusing on what he does and what he needs to do. That is the power of his truth. That is power of one and that is power of being in control of your ego.

I learn every day and I realign my compass every time I learn. At the end of the day it isn’t truth and your ego that should matter to you. Your work should speak for itself and even when your work is silent, it should be like the sun that doesn’t say a word, yet is the brightness without which there would be no life, nor this piece of writing. 

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