My friend Jorge’s husband José, likes to include a quotation in the signature portion of his personal emails. His practice is much like the Blue Jay of Happiness quotes that close my daily blog. The pithy quote that ended his latest email is beautifully topical and germane.
“Intolerance is a form of egotism, and to condemn egotism intolerantly is to share it.”–George Santayana
There is quite a lot to unpack from this string of words. It’s especially relevant in this troubling age of unbridled conceit and egotism. Santayana’s statement appears to be another way of warning us against intolerance towards intolerant people. It’s the folk wisdom that says what we hate about others also lives deep in our own hearts.
That said, as a general rule, average, fair-minded people are repelled by conceit and overt egotistical behavior. This widespread view has apparently been true throughout the ages. In fact, most religions and ethical conditions strongly warn against having unduly favorable self views about one’s own worth or abilities. Overly positive self-regard is also known as pride. In Judeo-Christianity, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Another aspect of the ego we sometimes encounter is a concept called the “healthy ego”. This is a balanced sense of self-worth that is essential if we are to thrive in the world. The key word is “balanced”. There are the extremes of conceit and humility. In the range of human behavior, it can sometimes be argued that overt humility is actually a flavor of conceit–especially if the humble person takes pleasure in pointing out her or his own self-sacrifices.
“Religious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Often, they don’t want to give up their egotism. They want their religion to endorse their ego, their identity.”–Karen Armstrong
So the mindful person takes care not to be narcissistic while not going overboard as a “people pleaser”. The wise person is neither a tyrant nor a doormat. We are presented with the temptation of childishly bragging about ourselves and lording over others. On the other hand, we are presented with the equally strong temptation of feeling shame and guilt about our own egocentric natures. We seem to waver or tilt towards one or the other behavior depending on circumstance. It’s easy to understand that in some ways vanity applies to both egotism and insecurity.
It is good to keep this balance between egotism and humility in mind as we try to make sense of news stories about arrogant politicians, religionists, and other celebrities. Awareness of this balance is important as we navigate through social media and our close-up, interpersonal relationships.