MUMBO JUMBO NEWS - ISSUE 22 - OCTOBER 2021 - SELF ENTITLEMENT (SELFISHNESS) AND THE EGO
Hi Guys. In this October 2021 blog (Issue22) I contemplate the entangled subject of ‘Self Entitlement (Selfishness) and the Ego.’
As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into all the worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. These blog posts are ded for those interested in mindfulness/spirituality and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched).
In recent COVID -19 virus times we have seen or experienced many instances of genuine kindness and community spirit. These elements are heartening but we are also seeing worrying attitudes of selfishness, elitism and entitlement appearing just as often, inasmuch as seriously affecting the common good. As some of us may have experienced or seen, in the current pandemic crisis, self-centred people haven’t sought to understand others’ points of view with a distinct disregard for empathy and compassion.
Many things across the whole range of global issues in this pandemic, including refugee movements, vaccination hesitancy, government failures, resultant poverty at the loss of work etc, have seen an emphasis on the dark side of individualism. Is it the aspects of a modern materialistic culture that drives us to put our own happiness first or the influence of social media that can make us react without facts, becoming isolated, and uncaring? Are all these things symptoms of the Ego?
What is the Ego? It is a much researched and discussed subject across eastern and western philosophy, religions, belief systems, psychology and mindfulness. It is considered to be a mental construct and is part of the never-ending ‘monkey mind/washing machine mind’ combination of thoughts that continually trigger emotions that are sometimes bad for you and for others. Part of the Ego is thought to be an inherent survival mechanism more about staying alive (part of the body’s flight or fight – sympathetic nervous system). This part of the Ego could be just purely instinctual and there may be not much you can control. However, if you are able to identify that part of the Ego that that you know will agitate you and ‘push your buttons’ you may be able to de-escalate potential uncomfortable situations. Many people seem to dwell in this part of the Ego identity more often than not. Allowing ourselves to let the Ego ‘rip’ in this instance may not work in our best interests or even our health.
One of the bad signs that the Ego is at work is if you feel defensive about something. Ego is cunning and is something that is counter to your higher Self (i.e. access to consciousness/soul/spirit, enabling kindness, compassion, selflessness and recognition that we are all essentially the same). Ego generally builds a prison in which all your habitual ‘life’ beliefs are held and let out to wreak havoc when you become prone to reacting (instead of responding) to harmful emotions (i.e. anger, pride, fear, judgement of yourself and others).
Both modern and past sages tell us these habitual and mostly limiting beliefs are a construct of the mind that is mainly dependent on upbringing and the influence of parents and close family. This is coupled with the exposure/influence of culture, social influences/peer pressure, level of education, and possible religious dogma/doctrinal influences.
Many texts indicate that the Ego should be suppressed or dissolved to assist the inwards journey to the Higher Self/Pure Consciousness. However, the various teachings suggest that the Ego cannot be killed and is always present. It is more like a so-called ‘frenemy’ who can be controlled with awareness of it and dealt with by various simple strategies. For instance, at times of its awareness, to prevent ‘knee jerk’ reactions it is perhaps best to take deep breaths, count to ten or do some meditation etc to control it.
The website https://www.verywellmind.com indicates: ‘that a sense of entitlement is a personality trait based on the belief that someone deserves special treatment or recognition for something they didn’t earn. In other words, people with this mindset believe the world owes them without ever giving anything in return.’
This useful article (which gives a psychological viewpoint only) illustrates the possible signs of a sense of entitlement and shows that the extreme forms of it may be part of a personality disorder (see following link). The following points are listed in the article:
They think they deserve special treatment. People with a sense of entitlement expect to get preferential treatment and special favours in life, without regard for why they should be treated specially. Their view is "the world owes me." For example, they might feel that the policies of an organization should not apply to them because they should be treated with special favours.
They feel that they deserve more than what they have in life. Regardless of what they have, they always believe they deserve more. They expect to elevate their lifestyle above that of others without putting in the effort needed to do so.
They feel like people should do things for them because of who they are or how much money/power they have. If they have reached a certain level of success, they feel everyone should bend over backward to help them. If someone has a problem with them or does not agree with what they are doing, they will try to make the other party feel as if they are wrong and that it is a horrible thing to disagree with them.
Their personal needs come before everyone else's needs. If you need something, don't expect them to drop what they are doing and help you. They believe it is your job to ensure they have everything they need, even if this means you don't have time to take care of your own responsibilities.
When someone doesn't give in to their demands, they will cause a big scene. They may be very dramatic when something does not go their way. If a friend or family member acts like this, you know it is best to avoid them when this happens. Otherwise, they will try to make themselves look better by bringing you down.
They are not grateful for what they have in their life. Someone with a sense of entitlement may not say thank you or show other signs of appreciation for what they have. This is because they believe it is their right to have everything, so they don't value anything.
They have a sense of entitlement about money, possessions, or friends. A sense of entitlement tends to be pervasive across their life. Someone who acts this way about one thing is likely to act the same way about everything else in their life. They may be greedy or will take friends for granted instead of being appreciative.
They act like victims and blame other people or outside forces for their problems. If someone in your life regularly feels like something bad is always happening to them, they probably have a sense of entitlement. Someone with this attitude believes the world owes them and that other people are responsible for making their lives better.
They constantly need praise and admiration from others. A sense of entitlement also goes hand-in-hand with narcissism. People who are focused on only thinking about themselves and what makes them feel good may be very demanding of praise and attention from other people.
They secretly struggle with insecurity. While the person with a sense of entitlement may come across as arrogant or confident, this can be a cover-up for underlying insecurity or fear of not having enough admiration, resources, or support. This fear and insecurity can also appear alongside depression and self-isolation.
Check out the article at: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-sense-of-entitlement-5120616
Notwithstanding any psychological factors, how can we explain or understand these attitudes in the mindfulness arena? Obviously, everyone has a choice in the way they conduct their lives and there are always good and bad choices. And, everyone has positive and negative features in their lives to experience.
However, if you find the aforementioned attitudes irritating and are throwing things at the TV when the news is on (Ego at work ?), a good position to take, might be one of acceptance of such attitudes, as this will take you beyond the ‘mind’ with all its resistance, prejudices and resentment. As many practitioners of mindfulness tell us; “let go, let go, let go” and just accept ‘what is’, freeing yourself from your ego patterns. Letting go of the Ego means letting go of our constructed sense of self/identity/habitual thoughts.
In an interview with Darrah Brustein on 19 August 2018 Deepak Chopra (US/Indian author, MD) responded to an overall question ‘on why a meaningful life rests upon developing a meaningful self’.
Chopra said (paraphrased); “All human beings exist, and for us as a species, existence automatically brings thoughts, emotions, words, and deeds that the mind organises in infinite ways. Our possibilities are open-ended. It is evident, simply glancing at history, that the purpose of life has always been the exploration of our infinite potential. The fact that societies can rise and fall, that every person has both good and bad inside him (them), that some periods see evolution while others see decline – all of this is part of the human drama. Most people accept their part in the drama with passive acceptance. Their core beliefs and attitudes, likes and dislikes, etc. were picked up second-hand from family and friends as they grew up. Except for a few highly unusual people who go their own way from childhood, the rest of us develop a self by testing what our family, friends, and society told us against what we actually feel and think. This is a tricky proposition when you consider that what we feel and think has also been conditioned by outside forces. Yet a completely different set of mental skills is considered suitable for relating to the world ‘in here.’
What makes someone unique is at once very important and a total non-issue. Seven billion people on the planet are leading unique stories simply because no two individuals, even identical twins, share the same experiences and response to life. That makes uniqueness automatic. Where uniqueness becomes an issue is when someone decides to break out of conformity and social conditioning. Striking out to develop a self that offers something unique to the world doesn’t happen by uncovering anything inside. It’s a creative process. The process requires looking at your own potential and exploring it. A meaningful life rests upon developing a meaningful self.
Marcus Aurelius was a 2nd century CE Roman Emperor and a Stoic Philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the ‘Five Good Emperors’ and ruled the Roman Empire during a time of relative peace and stability. He wrote the ‘Meditations’ recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy – see the translation by Needleman and Piazza – ‘The Essential Marcus Aurelius’, Penguin books 2008.
At Book 2.1 he writes of his struggle not to attach himself to his emotional judgements and thoughts; “Begin each day by saying to yourself: Today I am going to encounter people who are ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, and hostile. People have these characteristics because they do not understand what is good and what is bad. But insofar as I have comprehended the true nature of what is good, namely that it is fine and noble, and the true nature of what is bad, that is shameful, and the true nature of the person who has gone astray: that he is just like me, not only in the physical sense but also with respect to Intelligence and having a portion of the divine – insofar as I have comprehended all this, I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no one else can involve me in what is shameful and debasing, nor can I be angry with my fellow man or hate him, for we have been made for cooperation, just like the feet, the hands, the eyelids and the upper and lower teeth. To hinder one another, then, is contrary to Nature, and this is exactly what happens when we are angry and turn away from each other.”
Stoic philosophy (originated in ancient Greece) is very much practiced today and its main features are divided into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Stoicism is, at its root, a philosophy for minimizing the negative emotions in your life and maximizing your gratitude and joy; it includes mindfulness practices and value-based living. Stoicism is a tool to amplify your human experience, both internally and externally. Check out link at: https://dailystoic.com/
The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand years old. The Gita basically denotes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher self. It does this with dialogue between Krishna, a human avatar of the Supreme Soul, teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self. The Gita is considered a mostly secular practical guide on living a spiritual life. The entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds representing a blueprint for solving the ethical and moral struggles of human life.
There are a number of references in the Gita to selfishness and hurting others. However, chapter 3 on Karma Yoga (the path of action or Selfless Action) adequately covers an antidote to self-entitlement. Karma means, action or sum of your actions relating to this and future existence. The word Yoga means union or yoking of the mind body and soul in the inward journey to enlightenment. There are many verses of note in this chapter. For instance, at Gita 3.25, where Krishna is guiding Arjuna, it states: “O Bharata (i.e. one who seeks knowledge – directed to Arjuna), as the ignorant act attached to action, so should the wise one act, unattached, wishing the welfare of the world.” This verse reflects that human beings have the choice of action.
In the Swami Parthasarathy translation/transliteration of this dialogue (and the sum of previous verses) he states; ‘At the very outset Krishna distinguishes between the two broad categories of activity. The ignorant and the wise are both engaged in action. But their mental attitudes towards action differ greatly. The ignorant person has an obsession for action. He becomes involved in and attached to what he does. He binds himself emotionally to his field of activity. He acts merely to fulfil his egocentric desires. His motive is only personal profit or benefit. He sweats and toils all his life for procuring more comforts and pleasures for himself and perhaps for his family. He entertains no other ideal or goal in life. The purpose of his existence does not extend beyond his personal acquisition and indulgence in this world. Compared to the ignorant, the wise person works less selfishly. He visualises a higher and nobler ideal in his life. An ideal which serves a common cause, which benefits his society or nation. He does not confine his activity to one of mere personal pleasure or profit. The cause for which he works embraces the welfare of the people at large. He strives and struggles to achieve this noble ideal. Krishna advises humanity to be wise and work for high ideal in the world.’
The Bahai Faith, which has no clergy, is a relatively recent ‘religion’ (i.e. mid 19th century, originating in Persia) which stresses the unity of all people, explicitly rejecting racism and nationalism. The central teachings concern the oneness of humanity and spiritual principles pursuing global justice, peace and collective human maturation. At the link below there is an interesting reference to how a culture of consumerism affects entitlement and selfishness with an indifference to the plight and suffering of the poor in the world. The article indicates that the Bahai leadership council commented that: “The forces of materialism promote a … line of thinking: that happiness comes from constant acquisition, that the more one has the better, that worry for the environment is for another day. These seductive messages fuel an increasingly entrenched sense of personal entitlement, which uses the language of justice and rights to disguise self-interest. Indifference to the hardship experienced by others becomes commonplace while entertainment and distracting amusements are voraciously consumed.” The Universal House of Justice, 1 March 2017.
“The ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one. Letting the ego-illusion become your identity can prevent you from knowing your true Self. Ego, false idea of believing that you are what you have or what you do, is a backwards way of assessing and living life.” – Wayne Dyer – 1940/2015. (US author on self-development).
“Man is not, by nature, deserving of all he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, this is when we start walking all over others to get it.” – Criss Jami (pseudonym) American Philosopher
“Gratitude begins where my sense of entitlement ends.” – Stephen Furtick – American Gospel Preacher.
“Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other to a greater or lesser extent.” - Sigmund Freud 1856/1939 (Austrian Neurologist/founder of psychoanalysis)
Practice gratitude for what you have in life (especially if you live in a developed, free and just society) – wherever we are in this world, we are all in this life together with the same basic wants and needs. Recognise this connection with others and aim to understand their perspective and feelings.
My view is that entitlement and selfishness appear to be traps of the Ego (and could also be a psychological condition). Always be aware of any harmful rising Ego situations in yourself and in others and develop strategies to deal with it. Remember, we are all constantly prone to harmful Ego situations.
Part of a healthy Ego is being able to develop resilience, not take anything personally and have an ability to accept ‘what is’. Develop an ability to choose a considered response rather than reacting to a difficult emotion charged moment.
Develop a calm and even mind accepting some situations and letting go of other situations as appropriate. Inner peace should be the goal and stillness is definitely the key.
Don’t forget, you are no more spiritual than anyone else – just ‘be’.
Also, try yoga, along with meditation – a natural combination for overall well-being.
Compiled by Baz Shirley.
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And all my previous posts on: mumbojumbonews.com*