Our EGO is our made up identity. Ego comes from the Latin word meaning “I”. According to Freud, it has primarily two needs: to be right and defend itself. Its major drives: sex and aggression. (I think he had males more in mind with his theories) This correlates to testosterone which supplies men with sexual drive and aggression. When too much is produced it can get one in trouble in the way of violence driven behavior. When healthy, the ego mediates drives for sex in healthy ways – ie in a committed relationship or in “healthy” and socially appropriate ways. Aggression is channeled productively into work or meaningful accomplishments in sustainable ways.
Psychologists after Freud believed that the our egos have higher level needs such as a need for meaning and purpose. (Frankel) When our basic safety and shelter needs are met, affiliation needs become very important. When affiliation needs are met, the higher levels needs for meaning purpose and individuation become more important. (Maslow, Rollo May)
So what does this have to do with leadership?
The foundation for conscious leadership is to be aware. To be aware of self, others, what really matters, and as much as possible to the larger world in which we play and work. When the ego is immature, we are selfish. “It is all about me” which is an egocentric orientation. In the next stage of ego development we care about: our family, tribe, company, political party, religion, etc. the focus is more “ it is about us” This is an ethnocentric point of view. The third stage of ego development is a much larger sense of “I” . “I care about all of us.” This is a world-centric orientation – A movement from identifying with race, political, party, religion etc, to a fuller awareness that I am not only: a white male or female, Christian or Jewish, black or white, Hispanic, Democrat or Republican but an American and; ultimately a human like everyone else. In a Spiritual sense it is “feeling” or realizing a shared connection to all people and with all of life. Desmond Tutu embodies this awareness with his teaching that “we are all family!”
The sense of separation and feeling disconnected has gotten us in trouble. Since the ego always wants more and more, has a need to be right and defend itself, it can never be satisfied. No amount of material wealth, power or privilege will ever be enough. Almost like a hungry ghost – always consuming – never satisfied. Elkhart Tolle states ” The biggest fear of the ego is: The truth! This feeling of isolation and disconnect from self, others and the transcendent leads to consumerism and looking to the outside for validation and worth.
When fixated in an ethnocentric state of consciousness – I feel a sense of belonging and connection to my “tribe” but separate and better than those that have different belief’s religion, political view-point, culture etc. Kenneth Wilbur’s research indicates that 70% of the world’s population is in an ethnocentric stage of moral and ego development. Is it any wonder that we are collectively in the trouble we are currently experiencing with the global financial meltdown, income disparities in the US, international and cultural conflicts to name but a few? When combined with superior technologies in the form of weapons and economic power, and mixed with high levels of cognitive intelligence, an ethnocentric group tends to serve the goals of its members at the expense of others while convinced their beliefs and actions are moral and “self”-righteous. The result; unending conflict with more and more sophisticated tools to use for defense and applying against the “out” groups. Which seems to be one of the recurring themes and dilemmas we are living though today.
With technology reaching warp speed and our collective moral and ego development lagging far behind we all have our work to do! Maria Von Franz widely recognized as a foremost authority in psychoanalytic theory wrote that “Specialization leads to ego inflation” In other words the more specialized a person’s knowledge is, the greater the risk of hubris. She cautions we all need to be vigilant against ego inflation. For when we become well-educated or successful we can be too easily be seduced into thinking that we are better than others because of: our looks, degrees, success, religion political view points etc. This feeling of superiority or arrogance can and does lead to treating others not like us in inhumane and inequitable ways .
Von Franz, at the end of her life warned: “The greatest threat to civilization is ego inflation” So, is there hope for the world? Carl Jung’s answer to this is: There is hope for the world if enough people do their work – their inner work. As Einstein stated, the thinking that got us into trouble will not get us out. If enough people and leaders grow or develop to a more world-centric or it’s about all of us view and internal compass; I believe too; there is hope for the world. In every crisis there is an opportunity for growth. Currently we are fast approaching the point when the pain of not changing is becoming greater than the fear of change. The time is now for each of us in our own unique ways to become part of the solution. You will find your leadership at the intersection of the world’s needs and your talents. Listen to your heart.
Nov. 5, 2011