How elastic is your ego?

Have a look in the mirror! Photo courtesy of IKEA:

Have a look in the mirror!
Photo courtesy of IKEA:

The other day my wife and I had a fight, and she called me an egotist. Although there are always at least two viewpoints to every argument – and I don’t want to get into too much personal detail here – the statement made me reflect. Although I did not agree with her point of view, in essence I had to agree that I have an egotistic streak in me. But isn’t that a good thing? How can you ever be confident and successful if you don’t like or respect yourself? Certainly a measure of egotism is healthy. But the question is how much is good and how do you know when to tone down or ramp up your egotism?

It’s clear that for any relationship to work, there needs to be some kind of balance from both sides – and I suspect there is no real recipe or formula. The equilibrium in each relationship will lie at a different point, probably between 40 and 60 per cent, depending on the individuals. Only the involved partners can define the point of equilibrium, as it is dictated by their own comfort levels. With equilibrium, love and respect can flourish and relationships can develop to the point where the “whole” is greater than the sum of its parts – well in theory at least.

Where things go wrong is when one partner perceives a deviation from the equilibrium.  This is also where the dynamics get complex. As individuals, we all have our own view of what is tolerable and what isn’t: our filters. Then there is the individual temper or the fuse; some people have a short fuse with frequent eruptions, others have long fuses that don’t erupt often but produce much larger eruptions when they do. As people we are all just different, and it is our ego that guides us when we judge and react to our partners’ actions or words. It is also our ego that gives the elasticity to the equilibrium point. Some people would call this the “give and take” of a good functioning relationship. Are we willing to accept certain things, tolerate others, ignore the little things because we are focused on the whole? The problem with ignoring the small things is that sometimes they are like a tiny stone in your shoe; the moment you feel something you can decide to ignore it or take the time to remove it. Even if you decide to ignore it at first – the stone might not be painful, just annoying – sooner or later you will sit down, take off your shoe and try to remove the irritating object. It all comes down to tolerance, and it is your ego and personality that set these tolerances.

But just like an elastic band, your ego will lose its elasticity if it is always stretched. Through constant over-stretching, it loses its ability to contract back to its original form and becomes damaged. The good news is that by becoming more aware of your situation you can protect the elasticity of your ego. By clearing up perceptions and by removing the tiny stones in your shoe immediately, you won’t have to test the elasticity of your ego.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 30 November 2013

Are you wearing the right glasses ?

I can remember having a heated discussion with my wife about our eldest son. He was barely walking – about 18 months old – and, like all babies of that age, he wanted to touch everything. That was fine for 90% of the things in the house, but not for items such as the iron, the stove, the oven, etc. Already at that age he was drawn to the things which were out of bounds and he was constantly trying to get his hands on the forbidden 10%. His favourite was the stove. I guess he must have seen us cooking and just wanted to get in on the action. My wife managed to save him from burning himself on several occasions but, already at that age, he thought he knew better. However, when my wife told me about the problem, heated discussions were to follow. When I suggested that we should run a controlled experiment (i.e. let him burn his fingers) I got more than an earful. How could I even think of something like this? What kind of father was I?

I quickly explained that by controlling the experiment we could make sure he only burnt his fingers a little bit. More importantly, this way he would learn from his own experience, and she would not have to worry anymore about him really hurting himself.  So I set up the trap. I turned on the oven to about 100° C and waited for it to warm up. When it was up to temperature, I opened the oven door and stepped out of the kitchen for a moment. Sure enough, no more than 3 seconds had passed when, with my back turned, I heard the crying. He came running to me with his hand up in the air. I quickly plunged it into cold water and, after about a minute, he stopped crying. That was the last time we saw him hanging around the stove; he had learnt his lesson.

So what does this have to do with glasses, you ask? It is really quite simple: just as glasses help you see things better by filtering what you see, all your experiences are, in effect, filters that help you process information. In my son’s case, he needed to experience the heat from the oven to learn that ovens are hot and that he should keep his hands away from them. In other words, your experiences ultimately define your view of the world.

So you have a choice: you can just go along with life and not worry about this, dealing with everything that comes your way as it comes up, or you can try to create experiences that will enrich you and help you see the world in a different light. Therefore, if you are lacking in confidence (most likely you have experienced failure in the past and are cautious about trying anything new) you need a series of small victories to counterbalance your negative experience and build up your confidence. If you have difficulty making friends (you have most likely been betrayed in the past and are reluctant to trust people) try approaching new relationship without any expectations; let others demonstrate to you that they are trustworthy.

Of course, the older you are the more experience you will have gathered and the more imbedded your filters will be. This is why we hear the phrase “moulding a child when the slate is still relatively clean”. This does not mean you can’t change; it simply means that you will need more time and experiences to overcome the effects of your filters – so you’d better start working on it!

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 8 July 2013