Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Problem with Ego

In a steamy Tennessee courtroom some years ago I watched as a judge handed down a guilty verdict like a brick might hit the pavement after being dropped from an 11th story window of a skyscraper. Words were not minced, eye contact was made, and his honor’s voice was as rich with confidence as it was with southern drawl. Judgment day had arrived for one of my more scrupulous family members, and all I could do was watch in awe.

The only thing that can make inner-family lawsuits more combustible than the act itself is the presence of arrogant counsel. Something about a cocky lawyer prodding at whatever bones are in the family’s closet, on either side of the case, can literally make people turn to rage induced fits of violence. Luck would have it my not so trustworthy family member on trial had himself a real grade A false-bravado-filled attorney from New York City.

After a moment of silence following the verdict, as the swarms of lawyers packed their things, the judge, with a slight smirk, invited the defense to view the portraits of notable judges that had ruled in the courtroom from the past on the wall as they left the building. These portraits of stately southern judges in their black gowns with stern sophistication painted on their faces were showcased in baroque era gold frames all along the entryway to the courtroom. One would be hard pressed to miss these relics, so why did the judge ask the defense to view them on the way out? It was as if to suggest, that not only did the judge want the losers to know this was his turf, but that their was a long precedence of intolerance for Yankee arrogance in his courtroom dating back many, many years.

While the case, and that day in court in particular taught me many things, most notably to have legal counsel review all documents related to a trust or a will before signing anything, it was the juxtaposition of confidence and ego that shone the brightest that day. If there was ever an incident in my life that helped underscore the power of confidence and the idiocy of ego, it was this day.

Ego tells you to do things you shouldn’t do, say things you shouldn’t say, and act ways that are unbecoming to your own reputation. Ego tells you that you’re better than you are, and hides when you inevitably fail. Ego is cowardly in defeat, it leaves you starved, embarrassed, and bewildered. Ego is incredibly dangerous. Ego saps away the very humility that your soul counts on to grow and mature for the better.

Confidence is intently listening for days on end at a heated trial, playing no favorites, and when the time for judgment comes, making the decision with all the facts in mind. Confidence comes from history, experience, and education. Confidence grows with time, and contracts with failure, but never fully leaves the soul. Confidence allows for error, and helps set resilient success stories on a trajectory of achievement from the start. Confidence is okay with losing sometimes, and gets along with humility just fine. Confidence is the anti-ego, because it is based entirely on experience, not inner-perception.

As I get older, I’ll be 31 in a few weeks, I feel less inclined to do anything that isn’t in my realm of confidence. In graduate school a professor once noted with a hefty laugh that the older she got the less she really knew about anything in life At the time I thought it was a ridiculous remark, but the older I get, surely the more I realize that I really don’t know much about anything either. One thing I do know is that humility, with the right amount of confidence, can take people to places they once only dreamed they could reach.

When a coach talks about another team before a big game, they often emphasize all that is good about the opposing team, to help motivate their own to get up for the game. Lou Holtz was a genius at this, to the point that it was often fodder for the media when he spoke of inferior opponents before games. Lou Holtz won a national championship in arguably the most competitive college sport at the highest level of college athletics.

Creating an environment for positive thinking, high goal setting, and confident execution is only possible if we accept the dangers of ego, and purposefully avoid them. Any ignorance on our part could throw off the chemistry that exists in all of us to do great things. Making a purposeful choice to recognize the power of humility, handwork, and confidence, while avoiding the pitfalls of ego, will greatly enhance our collective abilities to live fruitful lives of importance.

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