What a powerful question. It seems like these days being right is a far greater goal than our own happiness and well being. In a time of such intense division, whether it is with each other, politically, globally, spiritually or internally, we as human beings continue to run into this dichotomy, which only feeds our suffering and the suffering of others. You would think happiness and well being for ourselves and others would make the most sense given the great benefits to our health not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Based on the actions of human beings right now, I would strongly submit this not the case at all.
Driving The Insanity
What is it that drives this need to be right? It can be summed up quiet easily….the ego. For those of you who have read the teachings and philosophy of Sartre, Pierce, Fraud, Eckart Tolle, The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Socrates, Kierkegaard or any great masters and psychologists of past or present generations, you know this is not some new revelation. The awareness of the power of the ego has been around since men and women began to question their own existence. While the ego has been referred to as many different things, (delusion, false self, unconsciousness, not knowing who we truly are, the negative judgmental voice in our heads) for the sake of this post I will use the term Ego as we explore the idea of the need to be right versus happiness and well-being, or better yet, waking up versus being asleep at the wheel.
What Do We Get When Our Ego Is Fed?
Well, for starters, we can separate ourselves from other human beings. They become “the other”. We know something they don’t know or we believe we hold the truth and they are just ignorant and in the most extreme cases not even worthy of living. How many millions have died as the result of egoic madness that takes over individuals and nations driven by in insatiable need to be right? The ego also gets the benefit of keeping us in a somewhat delusional state. Fear, doubt, suspicion, anger, rage, humiliation, believing our narratives or stories without questioning their legitimacy, gossiping; these are all the ways in which our ego needs to feed itself while simultaneously keeping us in a constant state of separation.
Why on earth would we want to live in such misery? For one reason, the ego is deeply tied to our persona and how we are perceived by ourselves and others. It is weak and has no real clue about the true power of being fully awake and alive, in fact, it is so completely threatened by our awakening it will go to amazing lengths to undermine our best efforts to wake up and discover “who we truly are”. The ego loves competition, arguing, war, racism, sexism, gender-inequality, self pity, self criticism, judgement. In fact, the ego can be the most hateful, cruel and abusive towards ourselves. This is the hook that keeps us on the line. Not only does the ego judge and distance itself from others, it keeps us at our greatest distance from ourselves. In Buddhist traditions there is a core teaching that reminds us about the truth of the inherent goodness that lives in all of us. I believe it is our job to find our way back to that inherent goodness in order to live a more fulfilling, healthy and productive life. Imagine a world where that is the goal?
How To Bring This Awareness Into The Context of Business?
I could easily write this post in general terms but in keeping with the business model of LinkedIn, let’s look at how often we see the ego playing out this role in business. Think for a moment about a recent meeting, conversation, negotiation or any other interaction in which you took a stand on something you felt strongly about. Perhaps a colleague disagreed with you and rather than a healthy discussion, the conversation turned into a personal commentary about each others short comings. What part of you drove the conversation? Was it a desire to be seen as “the knower” or “smarter than the other”? Did you get a feeling of superiority, pleasure out of making the other person wrong? Did you gossip after the encounter and try to enroll others to agree with your narrative? If you answered yes to any of these inquiries than say hello to your ego. The egoic part of ourselves just loves this stuff! It cannot get enough of the juice it receives from being right, winning, humiliating others, separating itself as somehow better than others and it is relentless in its pursuit of that goal. The need to be right can be so overwhelming that some people will go to any lengths to destroy the other person. The problem is “we drink the poison (being right) and expect the other person to die”.
I remember during a wonderful training from The Arbinger Institute, one of our facilitators described how disconnected from each other we truly are. At the time, she did not reference the ego but in reflection this is a great example of the ego at play. She said there are three ways we keep ourselves separate from others:
We view others as a means to get what we want
We view others as an obstacle to getting what we want
We view others as irrelevant; they neither help us or hinder us in getting what we want and therefore see no value in them.
This pretty much said it all for me and to be honest, I have most definitely viewed people in all of these three categories at one time or another. I was shocked but at the same time overjoyed at the realization, the waking up from the dream I had been living and seeing so clearly my own separation and de-humanizing of others! The worst for me was number three. How sad to look at other people as if they don’t even matter!
I’m Ready to Be Released From The Asylum……Does Anyone Have a Spare Key?
How then do we break the cycle of this insane cultural imperative? From the time we are able to speak we are taught that being right is rewarded. Being wrong or not knowing is not acceptable. Knowing the answers, even if we make them up is far more acceptable then “I don’t know”. We were not taught to say “I don’t know” or “That’s a great perspective, how did you arrive at that conclusion”? Our teaching was focused on the premise that there are winners and losers.
Think of how many careers are dependent on being right? Attorneys, IT professionals, Politicians, Executives, Doctors, Students, the list is endless because it is a human condition, not a career condition. But, we are first and foremost human beings and bring all of our distortions and clarity to work/life every day we get up each morning.
Here Are Few Tips To Get Started On The Road To Freedom From The Ego And Back To Your Natural State of Well-Being, Happiness And Inherent Goodness:
- Become aware of your thoughts: all this ego/need to be right mess is happening in your mind so the more mind-full you are, the better your chances of catching yourself in a state of egoic madness. That means being very aware of what your are thinking.
- Watch out for the inner critic/judgmental voice. As soon as you get wind of your mind criticizing or judging yourself or others, STOP! Ask yourself “who is running me right now? My need to be right or my desire to be happy”? Is what I am about to say helpful or hurtful?
- Have a trusted friend to join you on this path. Trying to do this alone is possible but it’s even more powerful to do it with another person(s). Make a pact to give each other permission to call each other out when either of you notice each others egos running amuck.
- Know the distinction between sharing information that is helpful versus wanting to be right. When you are sharing helpful information it has a neutral quality to it. There’s not allot of intense emotion around it. It’s more factual. You feel good about it during and after your share, like you are being supportive not hurtful.
- Begin to notice and acknowledge yourself when you see your behavior changing. This helps ground the new way of being for you and can help others do the same. As an example; if you typically get triggered when others don’t agree with you try this; rather than react to it, stop, take a beat and consciously shift into a more relaxed open state (a few deep breaths can help you slow down and bring you into a more mindful place). Initially, this may feel a bit odd but the more often you do this practice the quicker your brain will develop new neural-behavioral pattern.
- Be kind, be kind, be kind! The ego has a very tough time living simultaneously with negativity and judgement while trying to be kind at the same time. In fact, it can’t. Let kindness be your litmus test for whether you are truly putting this way of living into action. We all know what it feels like to express ourselves with and without kindness. Try it for a week or two and see what happens!
Amy Green, CEC, PCC– Amy has been helping clients improve the quality of their professional and personal interactions for over 19 years. Amy brings an array of diverse experiences to her practice and a compassionate understanding of the challenges currently facing our changing world. Amy brings to her coaching an ability to delve deeply beneath the surface to explore and identify meaning, challenge and life purpose for professionals in a variety of industries. Her company, Dynamic Potential offers a full range of services for organizations and individuals alike.