Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The ego and its natural enemy.

"The ego is not master in its own house."
-- Sigmund Freud
Once in a while I wax philosophical. It's usually when I need to process something by writing it, which is how I work best. The fun part is that I don't know where I'm going to end up. The scary part is that I don't know where I'm going to end up.

A week ago I was at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market show. Good fun was had by all. Great people, great manufacturers, and all in all, a good time was had by most. It would have been had by all if a few people hadn't felt the need to be important.

Our industry (the canoe and kayak manufacturers and retailers) are, as a rule, really nice people, but are also prone to drama, hyperbole, and ED (emotional dysfunction). Some of them take everything personally. Others like to cause drama and chaos because instability makes them more powerful. Keeping someone off balance by ad hominen attacks has a long, long history of being fairly effective in the short term. In the long term, once you're discovered, you're isolated by all and you might as well pick up a volleyball named Wilson and head for the nearest island.

Before I spring on you a Socratic dialectic or something equally obnoxious, here are a few quotes to digest:

"It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit."
-- Harry Truman.
"Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge. Those are the three things the ego is doing all the time."
-- Deepak Chopra

"Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity."
-- Frank Leahy
"Leggo my Eggo©."
-- Kellogg's
It is one of the saddest traits of human nature that people with poorly developed self-images tend to flock to places where they can become "important." Since paddlesports is a relatively small industry, there are quite a few of these people who want to be looked up to as important. Relative effectiveness is not a criteria; competence is not required. Because we're small, there is a leadership vacuum that has developed, and fragile self-esteem and big egos have stepped in to fill the void.

In other words, being a board member of a small industry group with a membership of 50 is sorta like being kissed by your sister. But if you can throw that around to people who don't know, you gain status, at least in the eyes of people who don't know you well. So there ya go.

I've tried for most of my life (the part that I remember) to be effective rather than important. I have plenty of examples in my world of people who want to be important (and in a way, worshipped) for their exceptional contributions to the microworld in which they live. In the end, it's fruitless, and you end up doing a lot of damage along the way.

Ironically teenagers are seen as narcissistic and self-obsessed. That is not my experience. My experience is that they see through the bullshit better than most adults, and do not suffer fools and egomaniacs lightly. My kids see through these superficial people as if they were made of cellophane.

"Daddy, what is that guy's problem?"

"He's lonely and he makes up for it by trying to be important."

"That's so totally lame."


"He should just get over himself."


"Then he would be happy."

And so it goes. And goes and goes.

So how do we work in a world where narcissism and egomania abound? I think the best solution is to love people who are narcissistic and egomaniacal.

How? Aye, there's the rub...

I'm still searching for the answer to that question. Trying to treat them as if they are not narcissistic. Trying to look for that Child of God / Inner Buddha being. I think, however, that the natural enemy of the self-important ego is love.

I am having varying degrees of success. It is most difficult to love someone when they're arrogant and belligerent at the same time, especially when they're not really contributing to the dialogue. So I'm just meditating and praying for patience. And for love.

Don't have any answers, but I at least know a few of the questions...

Respectfully submitted,


P.S. If patience fails me, I'm opening up a can of Socratic Dialectic whoop-ass.


Pacific Coast Treasure Hunt said...

I love this. So much resonates with how I try to live... not always easy, but always striving to not judge, to let go of control (but grab the wheel when the rig is veering), and the hardest to not need approval. That's my personal challenge. Growing up a left-handed funny looking weird named hybrid oldest child in the '70's was a recipe for approval addiction. All of us have such a challenge, methinks. Thanks for sparking the awareness and for being a calm center around which the storm can rage, if only for a short time.

gregg said...

nice thoughts
good post
whenever something bothers me about someone
i usually figure out it's about me more than them
i learned that first hand from your buddy deepak
in a 3 day seminar on the soul of leadership with him a few years back
ironically...he had the biggest ego in the room
and rightfully so....
at the end of the day
it wasn't his was mine
i'm such a shithead sometimes.....

canoelover said...

Gregg, good thoughts. I think a lot about this and where I fall into the trap of the egos bothering me because I consider it competition. I don't think so...I may be deluding myself.

I have no problem with ego. It's overused, I think my friend DK nailed it last week. "It's not ego that's the problem, it's self-absorbed ego." Bingo.

Deepak rules.

So do you.


SimplyOutdoors said...

Very interesting post; it was funny, thoughtful, and enjoyable. I really don't have any advice, but I did enjoy the post, and hopefully you don't have to use the can of whoop-ass.