Humans are a comical bunch. We wear clothes to shield our bodies and pretend we are not naked, sexual beings. Then we obsess over the nude form to the point of distraction. We hide behind privacy glass and locked doors and brick walls in an attempt to be inscrutable. Then we share the minute details of our lives on social media. We band together in clans and companies and countries to feel less alone. Then we put on the airs of importance to separate ourselves from the pack. It is our ego that gives rise to these contradictions, that peculiar force that at once allows us to survive and causes our downfall.
Though often maligned, a healthy ego is critical to human existence. The ego is what defines our place in the world. It balances the craven instincts of the individual with the demands of polite society. Very few people are comprised of pure id and those that exhibit this troubling tendency can usually be found in some corner of the legal system. More frequent visitors to my office are those whose egos are faultily calibrated. Many have the dial set too high. Enough have too little in the tank and have been victimized by those with supercharged self-importance.
The ego must constantly evaluate changing conditions; adjusting to be more accommodating in one moment and bold or even brash in the next. Always in flux, the ego will inevitably make mistakes. It is when the over-inflated ego remains intransigent that a conflict becomes a conflagration. The egomaniac that elevates his self-interest over the desires of the collective is a well-trodden trope.
Less discussed is the benefit of maintaining a well-balanced, responsive ego. Being the locus of self-worth, the ego bolsters relationships, creates healthy habits, and allows one to achieve one’s maximum potential. While the meek may one day inherit the Earth, that might be eons hence. In today’s world, wallflowers are good for singing about Sixth Avenue heartaches, but not as well-suited for leadership in our modern era of realpolitik.
Even a balanced ego is a mask for one’s deep insecurities. But trying to hide the fallibility that makes us human is a quixotic endeavor. One can be confident and vulnerable simultaneously. I have been accused of having a swollen ego, with my detractors citing as evidence, among other things, the vocabulary that I employ and the themes that I explore in this column. It is perhaps fair criticism, but it also ignores the inner demons and self-criticisms that I repeatedly put to the page. I simply use the words that come to my head, which reside there as a consequence of a lifelong passion for language and reading. I am comfortable with myself and my place in this community. That does not mean that I do not also acknowledge my shortcomings or recognize that my writing is not approachable to everyone.
In the courtroom, boardroom, or mediation conference, one must have the self-possession to both command a room and be relatable. That is the balance that the attorney and mediator must strive every day to achieve. My foibles and my erudition work in concert to make me an effective advocate for clients or a compelling voice of reason to warring parties.
To resolve the dichotomies of humanity is to approach happiness. It is at our core where this work begins. Train your ego as you would train your body and contentment shall be yours.