“Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” Sydney Banks
This quote from Sydney Banks highlights the essence of a calm, connected and caring human being. You don’t need to understand how the mind works to know that connecting with others without engaging your own ego is going to be better for a healthy and productive relationship. It’s what defines a naturally great leader and an effective parent.
Ego is always an illusory sense of self. By this I mean that it is only ever created by our own superstitious personal thinking. Without personal thinking there is no ego. So, the less thinking we have about ourselves the closer we are to our true nature; that space within us that comes before our personal thinking.
When we’re thinking of ourselves less, we are able to connect more compassionately and listen more deeply to others. Qualities which are essential for leaders and parents. It is perhaps easy to see how leaders and parents might struggle to inspire their followers or miss crucial signals if they themselves are caught up in their superstitious thinking. At one end of the ‘ego’ spectrum, we’re likely to observe behaviours akin to a bully, someone fighting to preserve their illusory sense of themselves. At the other end is a victim, lost in the search for the illusion, willing to do anything in an attempt to find a sense of themselves. The paradox is that it’s only when we can give up the futile search for the self that we see our true nature.
I spent years in this futile search. On reflection, it seemed that I had invested heavily in a secure sense of my’ self (in emotional as well as financial terms). I was a professional, qualified Human Resources Manager. I was a senior manager, I worked hard and was very well rewarded. When I was made redundant, I subconsciously felt that I had to find an alternative sense of who I was now! A lot of energy went into this search – extra study, pushing myself hard, stepping outside my comfort zone! Lots of extra thinking, which obviously got me nowhere as far as my mental clarity and calm were concerned. I was busy but generally unfulfilled.
Referring back to Syd’s quote, it is therefore not about thinking more or less of ourselves. It’s not about being selfish or a victim to the whims of others or to a made-up set of standards and expectations. It is just about seeing through the illusion that our personal thinking creates.
I love this closing paragraph from Michelle Obama from her book Becoming: “Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”