Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls (Mt. 11.29).
“The Ego and the I”
by Abp. Fulton Sheen
The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the story of every man born of woman, for there lives within each one of us two selves – the ego and the I: the self one seems, and the self he is; a man other men meet, and a man unknown to other men. The ‘ego’ is what we think we are; the ‘I’ is what, in fact, we are. The ego is the spoiled child in us – selfish, petulant, clamorous, and spoiled – the creation of our mistakes in living. The I is our personality made to the image and likeness
of God (cf. Gen. 1.26)!
The lives of the two selves cannot be lived simultaneously. If we attempt to do so, we suffer remorse, anxiety, and inner dissatisfaction. If true freedom is to be found within ourselves, the ego must yield itself to the birth of our true personality unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4.13). But the seeming self is so familiar a companion to some persons that it cannot be easily dropped, nor is it of any use to tell them that this superficial self has no legitimate place within them. Like a plaster cast, the false ego has to be cut away, pulled off, and this is a process that involves detachment, pain, and some indignity.
When the ego dominates our lives, we blame little faults in others, and excuse great offenses in ourselves; we see the mote in our neighbor’s eye, and not the beam in our own. We wrong others, and deny that there is any guilt; others do the same wrong to us, and we say that they should have known better. We hate others, and call it ‘zeal’; we flatter others because of what they can do for us, and call it ‘love’; we lie to them, and call it ‘tact’. We are slow to defend the rights of God in public, and call it ‘prudence’; we selfishly push others aside and call it ‘getting our just rights’; we judge others and we say that we are ‘facing the facts’; we refuse to give up our life of sin, and call anyone who does so an ‘escapist’. We overeat, and call it ‘health’; we pile up more wealth than is necessary for our state in life, and call it ‘security’; we resent the wealth of others, and call ourselves ‘defenders of the downtrodden’; we deny inviolable principles of law, plant our feet firmly in mid-air, and call ourselves ‘liberal’. We begin sentences in ‘I’ – and condemn our neighbor as a bore for wanting to talk about himself, when we want to talk about ourselves; we ruin family life by divorce – and say we have to ‘live our own lives’; we believe we are virtuous – merely because we have found someone who is vicious.
Our sloth and laziness we call ‘living sensibly’; we disguise our psychological reluctance to work by praising a socialism in which the State does everything. We want so much to be loved that we forget to love. We nurse our own troubles so much that we fail to see the lovableness of others. We possess money, and think that therefore we have worth; we criticize others unjustly, with the excuse that they should know the truth about themselves; we judge our virtues by the vices from which we abstain; we boast the tinsel wrapping on the box of our lives, and call it ‘glamour’; we refuse to make up our minds about anything, and boast that we are being ‘broadminded’. These are the temptations to which we are all prone when we allow the ego in us to become supreme.