Warning of the danger of ego is neither new nor rare.
Saturday, on our way to BJJ, Tim happened to turn on Bernard
Evslin's "Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths" and
we listened to the story of Phaethon driving his father
Apollo's golden chariot to show off to his friend. Ego led
to disaster and the boy was destroyed.
It also happened that I had been reading Ryan Holiday's book
"Ego Is The Enemy." I found lots of truth and good advices
in his writing. It was well worth the time. My mind, however,
started to seek counter-arguments.
I could never forget the sense of enlightenment stoked every
time I read Emerson's "Self Reliance." Churchill didn't
hesitate to quip: "Of course I'm an egoist. Where do you
get if you aren't?" These guys didn't seem overly hostile to
ego. If we were to value worldly successes, how could we
I don't know if Holiday has heard "The opposite of true is
false; but the opposite of a profound truth is another
profound truth" from the physicist Bohr. Out of my own life
experiences, I have realized that I am the center of the
world, and at the same time, there are billions of centers.
Holding the two thoughts in one mind at the same time seems
troublesome to many to whom a thing is either good or bad,
Westerners seem fond of splitting things into distinct
components. I heard people refer to the self as good and the
ego as bad (Pressfield, e.g.) when trying to discuss aspects
of a single man. For discussion's sake, this might be all right or even necessary.
For a Taoist, however, there is no such a thing as the absolute
truth or good. Ego can drive one to achieve; an overdose of
the stuff or applied at the wrong situation gets him into trouble.
Undesirable as charged, yet the ego gives birth to the notion of
the more respectable self. Without one, where exists the other?
A maxim might sound great for a book title but, taken at face
value, can confuse and harm in practice.