The Skyhooks’ 1975 album Ego Is Not a Dirty Word. Image Discogs
By Jon Michail
If I did not have an ego I would not be here tonight
If I did not have an ego I might not think that I was right
If you did not have an ego you might not care the way you dressed
If you did not have an ego you’d just be like the rest
Ego is not a dirty word
Ego is not a dirty word
Ego is not a dirty word
Don’t you believe what you’ve seen or heard
– Ego Is Not a Dirty Word, by the Skyhooks, 1975
What do you think? Were the Skyhooks right? If our ego is what allows us to remain upright, to go about our daily lives with confidence, then why have we come to view it with such shame?
The opposite of being egocentric, or self-centred, is to be allocentric – to have one’s interests and attention focussed on others. Of course, this sounds far better, to put the needs of others above your own. Being self-centred just sounds so… selfish.
Egocentrism and Allocentrism
I like to look at it through the lens of airline safety. You know when they do the safety briefing the advice is to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
Sometimes being too other-focussed, can cause a neglect of self that is anything but helpful. Looking after others is a very noble pursuit, but if you become so self-denying that you are actually a burden to others, then you have already failed to achieve your goal.
Health care workers, emergency services, and even parents are all necessarily allocentric. However, this extreme giving of the self will always have consequences if not balanced.
“PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) has been called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome because it first came to prominence in the First World War, with soldiers’ memories of the trenches. It has only recently been recognised that traumatic events outside conflict situations can have similar effects.”
PTSD is the extreme, but unfortunately all-too-common consequence experienced by those who live through trauma in their quest to help others.
Parents are less likely to experience this sort of trauma. Unfortunately, because the stress of parenting is not clinically traumatic, it is easy to overlook. Parents think well, I’m not the only one who is stressed and tired and feels like they’re falling apart, and so they push on, ignoring their own needs. Stress may be sadly commonplace, but we know it can be a killer. A little short-term stress helps us to perform at our peak, but ongoing stress soon takes its toll on our mental and physical health.
“Sometimes being too other-focussed, can cause a neglect of self that is anything but helpful.”
Allocentrics give priority to the collective self over the private self – fitting into a collectivist worldview where individuals exist to serve group or collective goals, and where individual concerns are secondary.
You can see how collectivism is a building block for socialism and communism, where an egocentric view much better suits a capitalist, decentralised, form of government.
Looking out for Number One
Author George Orwell was a great critic of collectivism, exploring what he believed to be its logical conclusion in his dystopian novels Animal Farm and 1984.
Whilst Animal Farm parallels the Russian revolution and communist transformation, 1984 portrays a totalitarian fascist government (though this ruling class still claims that power has been seized “for the people.”)
The dream sold to the animals of Animal Farm is that the masses will be freed to rule themselves. What actually happens is that the old elite is overthrown, only for a new elite ruling class to take their place.
The animals on the farm are encouraged to take on an allocentric mindset – denying their own needs and interests to serve the greater collective good. This extreme abdication of ego does not lead to freedom and prosperity for the masses. Instead the animals sacrifice themselves, even their own lives, not for a better future, but for the prosperity of the new ruling class.
This new ruling class have, of course, encouraged others to adopt an allocentric mindset, whilst they themselves maintain a self-serving, egocentric mindset.
Orwell’s preoccupation with collectivism is explored further in 1984.
“It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called ‘abolition of private property’ meant in effect the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before…with the result, foreseen and intended beforehand, that economic inequality has been made permanent.”
That’s Orwell’s critique of collectivism on a large scale. But what about in our own lives. Is there anything wrong with putting others first?
Of course not. Especially if you live within groups that do the same. But we live in an egocentric world. Capitalism, and Western culture in general, demands that people look out for Number One, and if you don’t, and if you can’t protect yourself, you will be used and abused – think Hollywood.
To a certain extent you have to learn to play the game.
Q. But what is the game?
A. A game with many “unwritten” rules.
I’ve seen many people put restrictions on themselves in life when they meekly follow the rules.
Others waste their time and energy in fighting society, without ever learning what the unwritten rules that govern it are. They end up wasting their huge potential, butting their head against the wall, rather than taking the time to work the “system” to their advantage.
On the other hand, I’ve seen many great individuals learn to play the game of our culture, so that they can pursue their own allocentric agenda. I know many great philanthropists who can only do what they do because they first looked inward to find out what they wanted out of life, and what their strengths are. They were then able to use this self-knowledge to go out there and help others.
So exercise your ego, and keep it in a good balanced shape. Without self-respect and self-belief, it is very hard to effectively help others.
Look after your family and friends, be kind to strangers, exercise integrity in your business. But be sure that in all of this you don’t lose sight of yourself. If you develop your unique strengths and talents then you will be in a far better position to help those around you.
What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts.
Jon Michail and his team at Image Group International partner with their clients to achieve breakthrough results with contrarian and disruptive ways to grow and monetise their personal and business brands. A veteran, multi-award-winning coach and author with a Who’s Who clientele, Jon is the CEO and Founder of Image Group International, an Australian-based corporate and personal brand image advisory and coaching organisation that conducts transformational seminars, workshops and one-on-one coaching in over four continents. He is recognised as Australasia’s No. 1 Image Coach.