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“I want to be a good person.”
“I want to help the poor and needy.”
“I want to make a difference in the world.”
What is common to these phrases is “I’’ and “want” and the only needy person could be oneself.
Very often our deep yearning to help others or be a “good” human being stems from our ego’s desire to be recognised and rewarded. Like a hungry baby, the human ego demands attention. One way it does so is by making us want to be useful. This utilitarian nature leads to praise from others or a sense of self-enhancement and prompts us to do further good deeds. The cycle continues.
And why not? It is better than being selfish, rude and unkind.
Or is it?
A righteous personality provides a safe haven for the ego. It validates itself with countless acts of virtue. After all, the helpful one, the gentle soul or the kind person is harmless and often valued in society.
But this very personality could be hiding feelings of deep insecurity, snobbery and even reverse snobbery! An individual who spends her time and effort in service of others might be unpopular among friends and relatives for living life with her nose held high. A mother who wants to “help” her child could only be controlling him/her. A teacher wanting to make a difference in the world may be struggling with self-image issues. A rich CEO might have high emotional needs and seeks validation through frequent charitable donations.
Does this mean it is wrong to be a good person? Absolutely not.
How do we identify our need to be good as arising from the ego’s dysfunction? The starting point is the awareness of the dysfunction itself.
Taming the ego is the subject of many philosophies and religions. There exist several psychological theories about the ego. The elusive nature of the ego makes it all the more difficult to call to mind, let alone define or reign it in.
How can we avoid this self-centredness and be mindful of our ego screaming to be heard?
Eckhart Tolle, in his book New Earth, sums it up beautifully – “You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing the goodness to emerge.”
Reflect on your motivation to help and be good. Is it an eagerness to please? Could it be the need to maintain a favourable reputation? Might it be a way to avoid reality by keeping busy?
Dwell on the reasons that drive you to be good. Rise above the limitations of your ego to be truly good or maybe even great!