Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

  • Living
  • Wednesday, 29 Jan 2014

An inflated self-image makes one behave badly, so take a look at yourself first.

EGOS are a terrible thing. They create wars, break up relationships and make people say stupid things, such as public transport is for poor people and taking the train leaves them stinky.

They make people go suddenly crazy when they believe they’ve been slighted or snubbed, and do stupid things such as speeding up, winding down their car window and gesticulating wildly, before bumping the offending car off.

And those two men who fought on the MRT train, supposedly over a woman, and caused the train to come to an emergency stop? Ego at work.

Even as a power struggle escalates in Thailand; and Japan, China and South Korea continue to bicker, these smaller recent egocentric episodes on our trains, roads and in some fund manager’s Porsche are happening in Singapore every day, and even more on social media.

My Facebook newsfeed has become a never-ending account of look-how-hot-I-look, look-what-cool-thing-I-did, look-how-smart/strong/successful-I-am.

I’m still undecided over which is worse: the humble brag (“Somebody needs to convene a Committee of Inquiry to look into how I got this promotion because I sure wasn’t expecting it!”), the real braggart (“Got invited to this party and look who’s here too?” Accompanying picture of braggart with champagne glass in hand posing with Rihanna) or the self-obsesser whose mission in life is to post a selfie a day (“Here I am, having lunch alfresco”, “Here I am, by the pool”, “Here I am, in the toilet”).

I confess I occasionally indulge in a little self-promotion, such as posting photos of my travels because my ego tells me I have a pretty good eye for visuals or portraits of my little nephew and niece because I’m so proud of how cute they are.

Of course, I could be completely delusional. But since I’m getting affirmation through likes and comments, I’m taking that to mean it’s true – I do have a good eye and my nephew and niece are cute.

For sure, Facebook is not the only medium that is feeding our all-consuming ego and turning all of us into narcissistic monsters.

If you don’t think you sound remotely like Mariah Carey, would you post a video of yourself warbling Hero on YouTube? Twitter and Instagram are worth the billions they are valued at because they allow you to amass as many “followers” as you can. The sky’s the limit.

Wow, who wouldn’t want to feel that important? It’s like building your own little cult.

But here’s a warning. A recent study, by Dr Andrew Stephen of the University of Pittsburgh and Dr Keith Wilcox of Columbia University in New York sampling 1,000 Facebook users, showed that users of social networking sites could be more prone to losing control.

The researchers found that users’ sense of self-worth gets a boost from these sites, but their self-control also gets weakened, resulting in a higher tendency to binge-eat, for instance.

Of course, if nobody responds to your self-serving broadcasts by liking, commenting or sharing them, then maybe you should find other ego-stroking activities.

The worst thing would be if somebody responds to your self-serving broadcast by sharing it and it goes viral for the wrong reasons, as Anton Casey has found out the painful way.

Casey, owner of a handsome silver Porsche, presumably forced to take public transport because his car was at the workshop, made a snide remark on Facebook about being surrounded by “poor people” on an MRT train.

He then followed that up with another insulting post about needing to wash “the stench of public transport off me”.

Casey wouldn’t be the only person in Singapore or on this planet who thinks money equals power. It enables you to buy a Porsche so that you will feel good about yourself since people will look at you with envy.

And we all know what power does to people. We have all dealt with our fair share of insufferable egomaniacs in our lifetime.

Casey reminds me of a guy who used to relish telling me how much money he made, how companies are beating a path to his door and waving big fat contracts in his face, and how he makes the most amazing ratatouille that no woman can resist.

Then, there was the one who got angry with me and demanded to know who I thought I was when I didn’t instantly reply to his string of SMSes because I was busy at work.

And then, there was the one who was convinced that he could have any number of women in his office if he wanted, who was equally convinced that the women close to him all want to have his babies, and that he was worshipped by both his bosses and his peers, or “followers”, as he liked to call them.

But I’ve found, after five years of gym-hopping, that nowhere is the ego more blatantly on display than at a mixed martial arts gym.

Dripping with testosterone and fuelled by a combination of sonorous pumping music, sweat and substances legal or otherwise, an MMA gym is a hotbed of hard bodies who cannot help marvelling at themselves in the gym mirror.

They strut around, fist-bumping each other and act all tough, but are secretly checking out the competition (or themselves in the mirror). Some take exceptional pride in their knowledge of a martial arts and decide to play coach, correcting other students’ techniques and telling them what to do.

But the ego really takes centrestage during sparring. Nobody wants to lose, so they resort to either executing elaborate manoeuvres like a spinning back elbow, trying to humiliate you if you’ve managed to strike them, or, in one particular case, go berserk by pushing you till you nearly crash your head through a glass wall.

Maybe I just haven’t had much luck meeting nice sparring partners.

Religions will tell you that ego is the root of all ignorance and suffering, and while it is impossible to be completely rid of it, they offer solutions to curb the ego from inflating.

A good way to start purging a bloated ego would be to stop thinking you’re better than everyone else. But just as important is the ability to let your pride go and forgive.

A humbled Casey, who has just lost his job, has offered to make amends by doing community work. A compassionate society will give him that second chance. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

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