Self-respect is conducive to a wholesome life. The key to it being useful in the real sense lies in one’s prudence in exercising it. In the right proportion self-respect is good. But excessive and unjustified self-respect loses its sublimity and positivity. It becomes insidious and mutates into the negative, pernicious force called ego.
Ego is the big, ugly sense of ‘i’ and ‘mine’ that leads to unnecessary complexities in life. It is inordinate self-obsession, narcissism, bigotry, rigidity and vanity to the point of being a pain for self and others. An egoist will be lacking in reason, sensitivity, clarity of thought, confidence, courage, transparency in speech and conduct and above all, a clear conscience. The sole aim of his life becomes the gratification of his sense of ‘i’ and ‘mine’.
To prove his point, an egoist may go to any length — howsoever unethical or inimical to others. He is blind to reason. Deep down, he is weighed down by misery and discontent and is starved of happiness. Hence, one needs to keep one’s ego well in check and be wise in practising self-respect.
There is a thin line between self-respect and ego. When we stand up firmly for a just cause involving us, it is self-respect and when not for a just cause , it is ego.
There are many factors contributing to the growth of ego like insecurity, inability to face life’s challenges and high aspirations not in sync with one’s capabilities. Self-justification is a major contributor to ego development . We keep justifying our wrongs under the facade of safeguarding our self-respect, when in reality it is the undeterred havoc of the ego. This can be highly injurious to our personalities, behaviour and relationships.
Conversely, self-respect is a propelling, uplifting force. A meek, unassuming and well-behaved employee, when persecuted unjustly by his boss, may depict unprecedented courage and tenacity in his retaliation. This unexpected show of mettle is driven by self-respect. Hence, self-respect is a pre-requisite to a qualitative life. It is synonymous with self-love. It bolsters our innate instinct of self-preservation.
Transcending ego is a Herculean task. All the same, we need to work at it continuously. Sublimating the ego also helps mitigate it. When we live a virtuous life of profound awareness, we become deeply connected to ourselves. In such a state, we start becoming aware of our frailties. We start observing the ego in ourselves, thereby beginning to go beyond it.
Ego can be a major blockade in one’s advancement on the spiritual path and in receiving Divine grace. The extent of its harm can be gauged from Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s dictum:
“The water of God’s grace cannot collect on the high mound of egotism. It runs down.”