Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ego-balloons and Iagos


“Society is necessary, yet inevitably corrupting.”  This is a theme that appears repeatedly in Joseph Conrad’s novels, according literary critic David Daiches.  One of the worst things that can happen to us is to be destined to live in a society that blatantly refuses to recognise our achievements.  It becomes worse still when there is a concerted attempt to belittle us for reasons like jealousy. 

The plain truth is that we all seek to be loved by the world whether we admit it or not.  We need the attention of other people though it may not be in the form of love.  The human ego is a “leaky balloon, forever requiring helium of external love to remain inflated, and ever vulnerable to the smallest pinpricks of neglect,” as Alain de Bottom said in his book Status Anxiety.

Society is the place where we get that indispensable helium from.  When we buy a car that’s better than the neighbour’s or send our child to a better school, we are in fact inflating the ego-balloon.  According to psychologist Festinger’s social comparison theory, we compare ourselves to others because there is no objective yardstick to evaluate our ego against.  How do I know I’m a good writer unless I compare my writing with others’ writings?  Or if other people don’t tell me that I am indeed good?

Yesterday, a person whom destiny brought into the higher echelons of my professional life made certain public remarks which obliquely sought to belittle my achievements.  The consolation offered by a colleague that jealousy was the cause of the remarks did help much in my effort to patch up the pinprick in my ego-balloon.  But a question began to dominate my thinking: does public opinion really matter?

The answer is what I have written so far.  But that fails to help me let go the ego-balloon.  Albert Camus, one of the novelists and philosophers who moulded my thinking significantly, comes to better aid.  He said, “To be happy one must not be too concerned with the opinion of others.  One should pursue one’s goals single-mindedly, with a quiet confidence, without thinking of others.”


I don’t find it hard to follow that advice, in fact.  The only problem is that there are a few Iagos that encroach on our diminutive space with wilful malevolence.  I guess that’s called destiny.  

12 comments:

  1. Albert Camus has brilliant advice. I do admire his thoughts :)
    How people love to compare & to get jealous!
    Society is like this only & thus, we are like this only :)
    Reminds me of the song from Mother India- 'Duniya mein hum aye hain to jeena hi padega'...

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    1. Right, Anita. Bob Marley said, "The truth is everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find out the ones worth suffering for." And there are a few whom we should learn to stay clear off.

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  2. The advice is good but when the belittling is done by a loved person or by any person whom we hold in high esteem then it becomes difficult to follow.

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    1. I really don't bother much about these assaults on my ego, Indrani. My ego has taken so much beating right from my youth that it has become shameless :) So much so that now I'm surprised only if people leave my ego alone. My problem, now the starting point of this post, was that I'm facing willful malevolence in a place where it is not expected.

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  3. “To be happy one must not be too concerned with the opinion of others. One should pursue one’s goals single-mindedly, with a quiet confidence, without thinking of others.”

    Most of the people don't meet happiness because of their negative mindset. They focus on what not to do instead of what to do. By saying "without thinking of others," people automatically bring others in helplessly.

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    1. Camus is a Nobel laureate in literature. The quote looks simplistic, but his philosophy was not. I invite you to take look into Camus' writings to understand their profundity.

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  4. "Comparing" things is inevitable, but with what and whom to compare totally depends on person to person. I like the phrase Ego -Balloons

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    1. Interesting comment, Meenal. In fact, psychology identifies 'downward social comparison' and 'upward social comparison'. In the former, the person compares himself with someone inferior to him and feels good. In the latter, the comparison is with a superior person which makes the individual feel bad but competitive or jealous or whatever else - depending on the individual's psychological make-up.

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  5. ALBERT CAMUS, was one of the novelists i worked on during my MASTERS.His novel 'THE OUTSIDER' IS A PSYCHOLOGICAL MARATHON! JOSEPH CONARD'S 'SOUND AND FURY' UNRAVELS the deep layers of our unconscious. Both are literary legends so to say.

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    1. Both Camus and Conrad are colossal figures in literature, as you have pointed out. Present day readers seem to have lost taste for such depths and heights! Maybe not, I'm not sure.

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    2. Both Camus and Conrad are colossal figures in literature, as you have pointed out. Present day readers seem to have lost taste for such depths and heights! Maybe not, I'm not sure.

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