In the car with my 10 yr old daughter the other day, she asked me what Ego meant, one of her vocabulary words for the week.
I laughed. Good question, I replied. What do you think it is?
I wouldn't ask if I knew, mom.
Well, use it in a sentence, in context. You've heard the word enough to have an inkling what it means. And an inkling is as close as you're going to get to defining an abstract like Ego.
Her brows narrowed and I could see her pondering in the rear view mirror. My ego got hurt when Ms Brown told me I was singing flat this morning. She paused. And she did, mom.
Sorry. We'll get back to that. OK? So Ego is feelings then?
Not exactly. It's more like how we see ourselves. To me, I'm a good singer. You can hurt my feelings by being mean to me. But you hurt my ego when you tell me I'm not how I think I am.
Do you think you were flat this morning in glee?
Well, yeah. When I listened. I guess I'm not such a good singer.
Ah, but you could be, if you practiced singing. And not the perpetual off-key humming you do, but really practiced, daily—sing along with your favorites, or sing the notes when you practice piano. I glimpsed her rolling her eyes at my suggestions in the rear view mirror. Being a good singer doesn't happen inside your head. What is the only way to really get good at anything? (One of my many canonical refrains.)
Practice, mom. She sighed.
I sighed. My beautiful daughter, I think your explanation for Ego is excellent—it's how we see ourselves. Ego is an idea, even an ideal—who we want to be, but it isn't real. We are what we do, my dear (another of my refrains). If you want to be a good singer, you're going to have to practice becoming one.
So you don't think I'm a good singer, she asked hopefully.
Were talking about ego, right?
Yeah. And my ego says I am one. So is ego always fake, just pretend inside my head?
You tell me. Do you think our ego ever gives us an accurate depiction—paints a real picture of how we are, who we are, what we do in the real world?
Probably not. She sighed again, deflated. Just cuz you think you're good, or talented, or special doesn't mean you actually are to anyone besides yourself.
Okay. Let's explore that. So, there's a great chef, recognized around the world for his delicious creations. This renowned chef practices his craft daily, has been a professional for over 20 years. It's not just his ego talking that's telling him he's a good chef. He decides to try creating a new dish, and serves it to five friends. And all five hate the meal. The combination of flavors tastes just terrible. So, is the guy delusional that he's a good chef—it's just his ego talking—or is he really one?
My daughter considered my little tale carefully before answering. Well, if he thought of himself as a great chef with everything he made, then his delusion was that he could be good all the time, that everything he created would be a masterpiece.
So then, ego is never an accurate depiction of self?
I guess not. Just like there is no such thing as smart, mom. She quoted another of my canonical refrains. Her bright smile in the rear view mirror lit up my world.
My DH and I NEVER tell our kids they're smart. In fact, when other people do, we smile politely, turn away and snicker. Our kids are consistently at the top of their classes because they work at it. A lot. There is no such thing as smart, we preach. Smart is an abstract, merely an idea, a concept, like democracy, or love, potential, or ego. Smart is as smart does.
We are what we do.