Atalwin Pilon wonders about the tradeoffs of honesty and likeability.
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands.
Yesterday I was accused of having an ego. To be more precise: according to the person who made the statement I have the biggest, most self-aggrandizing ego he has ever seen. Apparently whatever is considered my ego should not exist in the eyes of some people. Possibly it would make their lives easier or less confrontational.
A couple of weeks ago I read an article by Tim Ferriss called “The Plus Side Of Pissing People Off”. In that article he quotes Colin Powell: “pissing people off is both necessary and inevitable. This doesn’t mean that the goal is pissing people off. Pissing people off doesn’t mean you are doing the right things, but doing the right thing will almost inevitably piss people off”
“Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions or decisions. It’s inevitable, if you are honorable. Trying to get everybody to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.”
When I read the article it resonated with me. If I don’t at least try to manifest what I feel needs manifesting I will definitely be criticized by my Inner Critic. And if I give myself wholeheartedly to what I feel is my purpose others will criticize me. The bigger and more daring the cause one chooses, the stronger the criticism will be. Receiving that perspective was a relief. I felt inspired and all to be more opinionated and stuff. Because that is probably what would happen if I would not give a shit about pissing people off: I would allow myself to be a more vigilant keyboard warrior, perhaps even entering the public debate.
How does this resonate with the first paragraph? Apparently, within 2 weeks of reading the article I succeeded in pissing somebody off or rubbing somebody the wrong way. Clearly, this was not my intention. At the same time, I can’t really feel bad about it. I didn’t meet the expectations of somebody—she wanted me to be different, act differently and/or say other things than I have said. It seems she was disappointed or annoyed by my manifestation of me. By writing it down like that it becomes quite clear how impossible it is to live up to expectations you are not even aware of.
What I experience as ego is the partial, incomplete identity that we refer to as ‘I’ and use to keep up appearances. Then we can find that this ‘I’ that identified with a body and a mind and a set of preferred characteristics and beliefs is in fact an illusion. This changes the game dramatically. Instead of being selective about what to share and what to hide out of fear of losing control or facing rejection or exclusion the only sensible way to relate is to become true to the inner experience. What becomes pretty clear is that what we experience as ‘I’ is only a part of our True Nature and its boundaries are created by conditioning. The ‘I’ we think we are is not the I we really are. On a deep level this knowing is still there. We experience ourselves as incomplete and inadequate and we think we can improve ourselves if we reject parts of ourselves that are distasteful, weak, inappropriate or otherwise not welcome according to our belief system.
The way we commonly use the term ‘ego’ is deceptive, I feel. In everyday life we say that somebody who is loud, competitive, confident or arrogant has a big ego. And somebody who appears to be quiet and obedient has little ego. But in both cases the driving force behind the behavior can be fear of being inferior and a need for survival. One person avoids the fear of being invisible and the other avoids the fear of being an obstacle. At the same time both aforementioned examples can serve the whole by transcending their fears thus becoming exactly who they are: whole and complete and therefore perfect and flawed simultaneously. Nobody who has experienced how his heart opened up suddenly decides to start behaving according to what other people see as spiritual. That would be quite inauthentic, don’t you think?
When we look through the window of what we feel is acceptable we can never see the complete picture. We judge and condemn others to make ourselves feel superior and the other inferior. It doesn’t mean we are right, it only means we are good at judging and condemning and prefer to feel superior. What we reject in others is what we reject in ourselves. When we realize that we can use our judgments as a tool for discovery of what we reject and reintegrate that. This way we become more complete; we grow as human beings.
I admit, I find it somewhat painful that someone goes behind my back to complain about my personality and temperament. But I feel it is better to strive after honesty then after likeability. Guess I better get used to pissing people off occasionally. I’ll buy a helmet or something.
PS: Just found the picture for this post. It makes me smile. I feel tempted to write about being awesome. Sounds like fun. I might rake up the courage and do it some time soon. Just to piss some people off.
– Originally published at Basic Goodness