Playing Into the Ego’s Hand
When we hear stories of oppression, injustice, and exploitation, it makes us aware of how some people in our society are treated unfairly. Bringing this into public awareness can increase our sense of connection with those who are being hurt, and prompt us to empathize with their suffering. Hearing about it can motivate us to stand by their side and support them to find a way out.
Shining light on our mistreatment of each other can also reveal our blind spots and help us to recognize how our ego justifies hurting others in order to protect ourselves. It is useful for learning how to become better people, more caring, inclusive, and connected to something larger than ourselves.
While this kind of social self-awareness is necessary for a society to improve, it often is used to further divisions among us. When we focus on oppression and exploitation, we inevitably blame those who we think are responsible. We assume that exposing and shaming the villain will help those who are being hurt and correct the injustice.
However, we are witnessing the opposite. As the political left digs deeper into institutionalized racism, sexism, and prejudice, the political right in our society pushes back harder. As critical race theory and discussions of the sustained impacts of slavery make their way into mainstream media, so does talk of replacement theory and reverse discrimination.
Our intention is to expose the problem so that it can be remedied. Yet the way that we are doing it fuels culture wars that consume our energy and disable us from finding a real solution. When we focus on those who we think are causing the harm, we often become absorbed in an effort to judge them as wrong.
Using morality to try to stop people from harming others often backfires. We are all programmed to see ourselves as right and others as wrong. So when we blame, we set up a chain reaction of more blame. Each side ends up justifying our actions by accusing someone else. And we lose sight of our real needs in the process of trying to prove ourselves right.
When we demonize people who cause harm to others, we unknowingly play into the ego’s hand. We unconsciously feed the paradigm of “us against them” that our ego has programmed into us. And it is this very programming of the ego that caused the oppression and exploitation in the first place.
Our ego has each one of us convinced that we are separate, alone, vulnerable, and in need of protection and security. It is the programming of our ego that makes us take advantage of each other and justify it as necessary for our own survival. Our ego makes us think that our existence is separate from those around us, and that we can only secure our own life by exploiting others.
When we view another person as the enemy, we strengthen this ego-programming and ensure that it will continue to infect and control all of us. We reinforce the ego by separating ourselves from those who oppress and exploit others. And this merely perpetuates the pattern of injustice that we are trying to stop. If we keep the ego’s programming alive by feeding it unconsciously in this way, we will never achieve the result that we want.
Reframing the Problem
Revealing injustice and naming those responsible exposes the symptoms but not the true cause. To stop oppression and exploitation we have to find the root cause and pull it out. It is the ego in other people that causes them to take advantage of others for their own benefit.
The ego is an idea of a separate personality that we often mistake for who we are. Because it is merely an idea, it requires elaborate programming and constant attention to make it seem real. We unconsciously go to great lengths, and ignore our real needs in order to sustain our ego.
The only way the ego has of shoring itself up and making itself look real and powerful is by diminishing others. Our ego requires us to dominate others and to use them for our own gain because it has no source of its own. When we are under the spell of our ego, we cannot help but deceive and manipulate others to enhance the fragile, separate self that ego makes us think we are.
All egos work in patterns that are predictable. We can learn these patterns, and name them as they appear in ourselves and others. If we separate the people who are hurting others from their ego, then we can focus on the real cause and have a chance to find a real solution.
My Ego Made Me Do It!
People oppress and exploit each other. We all do this at times, although we rarely admit it, even to ourselves. Under the influence of our ego we justify cheating or taking from others. We do this because we are convinced that we are victims and are entitled to some small degree of exploitation to shore up our crumbling sense of self.
Our ego attempts to shield us from the shame and guilt of our self-centered behavior by projecting it onto others. We immediately feel exonerated when we find someone else to blame. We regain our innocence by proving others guilty.
To undo the ego, we have to stop blaming others and making them the enemy. This does not mean that we ignore their ego’s behavior or allow it to continue. It means that we set boundaries to stop them from hurting others, without making them wrong or seeing them as evil.
Setting healthy boundaries means that we keep our heart open to the other person, even as we stop them from doing what their ego wants them to do. We can include those who are hurting others as part of humanity and an extension of ourselves. We can oppose their behavior and stand against it, without opposing or standing against them.
As we discuss a specific way that someone is being oppressed or exploited by someone else, we can expose the particular ego patterns at work. They are familiar to all of us, because we all do them at one time or another. When we stop focusing on who is right and wrong, and instead call out the ego, we are addressing the actual cause.
Is It Working?
The thing about the ego’s predictable patterns is that they don’t work. The ego actually prevents us from getting our real needs met. This ensures that we will perpetually turn to our ego to try to meet our needs. And that in turn validates the ego’s existence and enables it to maintain control over us.
By focusing on the ego patterns playing out in someone who is oppressing or exploiting others, we begin to unravel the cause. The ego can only control people when it is invisible behind the scenes. Exposing it begins the process of its undoing.
We can then focus on what the person who is hurting others really wants, as well as what the people being hurt want. This can begin the process of everyone getting their real needs met, which can resolve the situation and end the hurtful behavior.