The enemy of character is ego. Within each of us there are two selves,
a true self and a false self. The two selves are constantly battling
with each other for supremacy. The true self speaks for character,
and the false self speaks for ego. The authentic self finds its identity
in all things that are good, true, beautiful, and noble, while the
ego is constantly making demands based on insecurity and self-aggrandizement.
Character is the emergence of the true self, while
ego is the ugly head of the false self. Character is the ambassador of
the higher self, while ego represents the lower self.
Which self will you choose? The higher self or the lower self?
The authentic self or the false self? Character or ego? Are you willing
to dismiss the constant demands of the ego and painstakingly build
an identity of character one virtue at a time?
It is this conflict between the higher self and the lower self,
between character and ego, which surrounds the whole human
drama. All great music, movies, and stories are centered on this
struggle. Within people and between people, within nations and
between nations, the battle is between character and ego. All we
are ever witnessing in human relations is this struggle between the
higher self and the lower self. Character and ego are constantly vying
for dominance within us, and the inner reality seeks an external
Our egos place us at the center of the universe, and everyone
and everything else is either in place, or out of place, according to
our whims, cravings, fancies, and self-centered desires. When we are
living from an ego-centered perspective, everything happens in relation
to us. Everything we hear and see, we hear and see in relation to
us. When people speak to us, we don’t try to understand what they
are trying to communicate; we filter what they are saying and hear
what they are saying only in relation to what is of interest to us or
how it might affect us. An extreme example might be that someone
close to us gets very sick and we are upset because their illness has
interfered with our plans.
Life never happens as we think it will, and events rarely unfold
exactly as we would like them to, so when we are living from an
ego-centered point of view we are constantly frustrated and disappointed.
Consumed by ego, everyone and everything seem to be always
out of place. But the world of ego is an illusion. The reality is
that everyone and everything is in place, exactly as they should be
in this very moment. We are out of place. By succumbing to the
mental seduction of the ego, we have erroneously placed ourselves
at the center of the universe, where we most certainly do not belong.
Everything may seem out of place, but in fact it is we who are out of
The more we submit to the demands of ego, the larger the ego
grows, and the more control we give to the ego, the more irritable,
restless, and frustrated we become. This is because things will inevitably
not always turn out as we would like them to. There are
so many factors beyond our control, and when we don’t get what
we want, the ego throws a tantrum, just as an undisciplined child
does. This child sees his or her desires as the number-one priority,
and when those desires are not fulfilled the world is wrong and the
universe is out of balance from his or her egotistical point of view.
We all fall into this behavior from time to time. We may be going
to meet someone and the other person is running late. In the grand
scheme of things, it’s nothing, but we can make a huge deal out of it.
We may not even say anything to anyone, but inside we allow it to
grind away. How many men do I know who are always complaining
about how long it takes their wives to get ready? They could just sit
down and relax and read while they are waiting—a few minutes here
or there is not going to make that much of a difference—but they
choose to let it upset them. In these scenarios, and many more, the
real issue is that events are not unfolding exactly as we want them to.
The truth is this: We are not the center of the universe, and
when we try to place ourselves there, we set ourselves up for disappointment
and frustration. The ego is never satisfied, whereas the
authentic self is satisfied simply with embracing this moment as an
opportunity to progress toward the-best-version-of-itself in any way
it can. If waiting patiently will help you become a better person, the
authentic self is satisfied with waiting patiently, but the ego will be
restless. If helping someone else fulfill a dream will help you build a
better relationship with that person, the authentic self wants to celebrate
that, but the ego wants you to always be the center of attention.
The authentic self is genuinely interested in other people, while the
ego is interested only in what other people can do for it.
Character leads to enduring happiness. Living only through the
ego leads to empty and fleeting pleasure. Invest in character, and it
will see you through good times and bad. Invest in ego, and it is like
building a home on quicksand.
From Perfectly Yourself
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