the persistence of ego: flash lite
Each of us is born with distinct gifts, to be developed and expanded through discipline and desire, or to be left to fade through apathy and anxiety. They encompass the kaleidoscopic range of human experiences, from construction worker to concert violinist, from doorman to doctor, from gardener to golfer, from proctor to president. Yet why must society make delineations, create class categories, foster exclusivity?
A concert violinist must go through decades of disciplined practice on top of requiring the inborn gifts, yet is the construction worker—who labors through years of apprenticeship and stultifying weather conditions while helping to create the concert hall—a less valuable person?
A doctor must go through endless years of highly specific training and staves off disease, yet is the doorman—who helps to guard the doctor’s co-op against crime and murder, and keeps order—a less valuable person?
A professional golfer must devote immeasurable time to drives and putts while offering entertainment and ready aspiration, yet is the gardener—who maintains the course and cultivates beauty and oxygen with perpetual toil—a less valuable person?
A president, whether of company or country, must cultivate expansive education, political skills and charisma to guide and inspire groups of people with much at stake, yet is the proctor—who oversaw the president’s bar exam and ensures integrity and discipline within life-changing circumstances—a less valuable person?
These questions can be answered quite simply and directly. When guided by integrity on a daily basis, such positions require singular gifts and devotion while making tangible contributions to society. Who can say which is more valuable; who are we to judge?
Of course, absent the ethical aspect, the more-or-less-valuable answer becomes painfully clear. The New York Times’ Editorial Board, in “Truth and Lies in the Age of Trump,” years ago captured the current reality:
"The rise of social media has been great in many ways. In a media environment with endless inputs and outlets, citizens can inform and entertain one another, organize more easily and hold their leaders accountable. But it also turns out that when everyone can customize his or her own information bubble, it’s easier for demagogues to deploy made-up facts to suit the story they want to tell. That’s what Mr. Trump has done. For him, facts aren’t the point; trust is. Like any autocrat, he wins his followers’ trust — let’s call it a blind trust — by lying so often and so brazenly that millions of people give up on trying to distinguish truth from falsehood. Whether the lie is about millions of noncitizens voting illegally, or the crime rate, or President Obama’s citizenship, it doesn’t matter: In a confusing world of competing, shouted “truths,” the simplest solution is to trust in your leader. As Mr. Trump is fond of saying, “I alone can fix it.”
Even in the face of an avalanche of proof and press and pressure, for so many in public and private life the ego continues to rule and forbids them to simply come right out and say that they made a mistake, which more often than not would close the matter and that direct acknowledgement would itself engender trust!
Beyond those who demonstrate repeated ethical lapses, though, given the abundantly meaningful and measurable contributors in wide-ranging occupations across counties and countries, why in the world must ego be so prevalent? Is this person more precious than that one? Does he or she deserve more or less? Does a bank teller on the front lines of the customer experience making $35,000 a year not deserve the same respect as the investment banker putting together mergers making $3.5 million a year?
Are we using our resources to further contribute to society or to buy trophy items with little practical purpose other than to proffer ostentatious display? The Red Cross worker who assists with flash floods saves lives. The fireman who puts out flash fires saves lives. What does flash-clad self-aggrandizement save?