We are increasingly told that it is wrong to have an ego and even an identity. While this idea is rooted in philosophical or spiritual traditions (Taoism, Buddhism, etc.), it is also the work of new age movements that propose ways to achieve happiness.
While it is true that it is rather disabling to have an oversized ego, it is sometimes beneficial to have an identity in certain situations. This article tries to give its letters of nobility to something that is increasingly discredited.
Is the ego really our enemy?
Ego, which means “me” in Latin, refers to the representation and awareness that we have of ourselves. It is inherently impossible to reduce our ego to nothing without suffering psychiatrically or having reached an ultimate spiritual level. In most cases, the ego is a bad counsellor because it leads us to make decisions that serve to enhance a false representation of who we are. To remove the ego would in itself be to reach our essence.
The ego often misleads us. It can cause us to act impulsively or unfairly, simply to serve our self-image.
Identity can prevent us from seeing things as they are
To learn, we often have to unlearn. In order to observe the world, it is best to disregard the self, i.e. to place oneself solely as an observing consciousness and forget about one’s own representations of oneself. In doing so, we spare ourselves the layers of filter that constitute our identity and that prevent us from seeing clearly. In most cases, it is better to be unfiltered and therefore without identity in order to learn from the world. It is by forgetting ourselves that we can learn more about our surroundings.
Identity is an ally
Our identity is nevertheless an ally in our actions, if it does not lead to a conflicting relationship with the world. Imagine that you think of yourself as human first and foremost, and that for you, being a good human means being caring, courageous and compassionate. This identity will serve you in most cases to form harmonious bonds with the people you meet or the animals you come across. If being human does not make you feel superior to other species, you are likely to behave in the best possible way in your interactions with the outside world.
Identity provides a framework
Ideally, one could say that one could do without an identity in order to become a pure observer and interact with others without preconceptions. The problem is that often, without a discipline to do so, the absence of an identity can lead to a form of malleability and we can somehow drift away because of our inability to decide against a frame of reference. Living with an identity, however slight, helps us to act in a certain direction with consistency, harmony and discipline. Of course, we can revisit from time to time the identities we like and those that ultimately work against us, but at least acting through the lens of identity helps us to be committed and consistent.
Seeing the links with other identities
Ideally, it is better to have an identity that is based on a value system rather than race or gender. The fewer identities we have, the easier it is to make decisions. On the other hand, the more identities we embrace, the more likely we are to be tolerant and to see the connections between ourselves and others. It’s up to you to see how many identities serve you and what they are.
How to create an identity that suits you
When choosing an identity, it is important to think about the values you wish to embody. Then it is necessary to choose a name or avatar that would best represent these values. Imagine, for example, that you want to stop telling lies. You may decide to read about a person you admire who has excelled in this value. Then you can simply act in accordance with that value. It is above all through your actions that you will consolidate the identity you wish to have. Each coherent action will be a step in the direction of the desired identity. That is why it takes time to create an identity, but once this identity is strong, it helps us to stay on the right path. When you are riding a bicycle, you don’t need to pedal as much to keep your balance.
Initially, it is not necessary to tell others what identity you want to have. Focus on your actions. After a while, it is the outside world that will recognise your value and identify the identity you have chosen.
Don’t make the right choices, make your choices right
It is not easy to make good decisions, no matter how much we weigh up the pros and cons, reason can get in the way of our emotions. After thinking about it long enough, doubt may persist. In this case we have two choices: to act even if we are not sure, or to abstain.
Intuition is a force that informs us of things we are unaware of. It can be used to guide us when we have experienced it enough in the past. True intuition rarely deceives us, but it must be recognised.
If there is a doubt, there is no doubt, really?
You may have heard this saying before. What does it mean? It means that if your intuition has a reservation before making an important decision, you should refrain from making that choice and proceed. But should you trust this advice? I would say yes and no. Yes, if refraining from doing so will protect you from great danger or will put you back in a situation you have been in before. No, if you think you might gain valuable experience even if the original outcome is not achieved in the end.
When we lack the ability to decide intuitively, there is always our ability to rationalise the decision making. If you are hesitating between two or more options, why not make a table in which you define criteria and weight each of them to assign a score to each of the choices you are considering. For example, let’s imagine two choices: study abroad or study in your home country. Now consider two criteria: saving money and having a rewarding experience. Let’s assume that experience is very important to you and saving money is less important. Let’s assign the coefficient of 20 to saving money and 30 to having a rewarding experience. Let’s assume that going abroad has a score of 5 to save money and 9 to provide a rewarding experience. The total score would then be 5 x 20 + 9 x 30 = 370. The other option will have scores of 8 and 6 respectively for a total score of : 8 x 20 + 6 x 30 = 340. Taking this simple test, the option of going abroad seems the best. Of course, the more criteria there are and the greater the difference between the final scores, the more confidence one can have in the certainty of such a decision. You will often be surprised at the difference in scores you can get despite the apparent blur you were initially in.
Move forward as if on a battlefield
When you are already committed or when the previous recommendations have not been conclusive for you, all you have to do is to behave like a warrior who advances resolutely to make good the choice you have made.
Life often offers us only a few turning points which alone allow us to change our destiny. If we miss these appointments with our history, we must accept this fact with calmness and resolution while working hard to do our best in a situation that leaves us with few options.
Sometimes our situation is not much different from a soldier in no-man’s land. His only freedom is to move forward or backward. To face danger or to assume the dishonour of desertion or the fire of our own camp.
We are the fruit of our choices
Whatever we say, whether we want to blame others or not, a large part of who we are is the result of our choices. Of course, these choices are not free of influence, whether it be from our family environment or where we live. Still, you have contributed in large part to the end you have today, at least if you are over 30 let’s say. Since choices shape our lives, it is in our interest to set up a system that allows us to optimise our choices while accepting a margin of error, which is necessary to gain experience. Optimising your choices is ultimately optimising your life.