Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls (Mt. 11.29)
“The Ego and the I” (II)
by Abp. Fulton Sheen
Those who glorify the ego, or the seeming-self, often develop a vicarious interest in solving problems which do not concern them, as a substitute for tackling their own problem of selfishness… They shift the problem and study baffling events in other lives, instead. The man who has horrors tormenting his own soul may like to hear of greater horrors in others, or to see them on the screen, in order that he may for a moment forget his own hell within.
In talking about other people, we often ask: “Why doesn’t he recognize his own faults?” The reason is that “he” has never practiced self-introspection; his ego has obscured his I; his egoism had drowned out his personality. On the other hand, we who see the fault are sometimes – not always – unconsciously revealing our own; for how could one of us say of another, “She is jealous,” or “She is catty,” unless we already knew in our hearts how it felt to be jealous or catty? Our Lord warned us: Do not judge others, or you yourself will be judged (Mt. 7.1). The judgment of our neighbor is a self-revelation, and thereby a judgment on ourselves. The very touchiness and sensitiveness of some people about themselves, the violent way they react to criticism, is an indication of how much they protect their own false ego, of how little courage they have in daring to let their real self stand the light of day.
Because the ego and the I, or the superficial self and the real self, are related as the husk to the seed, it follows that the I is not revealed until the ego is removed. The apple does not become a tree until the outer, covering pulp is shed and the seed is set free to grow.
Many writings today tell us how we may deceive people by flattery or win their good favor by a broad-mindedness about virtue and vice; these are really appeals to our egotism. Their result is to make the ego more egoistic and the husk more impenetrable, effectively preventing the release of the I, or the real self. To use others as instruments of our ambition is the antithesis of loving them – and self-growth. Those who wear a constant disguise over the true self not only reveal themselves to their neighbors, at moments of stress, as totally different personalities, but they have within themselves a bare minimum of the true self-consciousness which is necessary for life. Their sense of selfhood is so completely externalized, so dependent on others’ praise, that they never feel integrated, are never able to find peace. Their emotions and their action are at war. A constant conflict seems to rage within their hearts, between what they ought to be and what they are. Constantly busied with appearances and with their own surface emotions, such people become incapable of love in the true sense of the word; they love the ‘experience’ of love, but they do not love any person, because they are hardly any person themselves. Frightened to look inside themselves because of the skeletons in their own souls’ closets, they abhor silence and quiet; for only the peaceful of soul can live with themselves.