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The Ego of Doing Good
|by Prem Verma|
When we question the purpose of life, the reason for our birth, the goal of why we were put in this world, we start wondering that it must be not merely to earn a living and look after our family but one for a greater purpose. We come to the conclusion that there must be a greater role for us than just day-to-day living and that it has to include making the world a better place for all. We need to look around and challenge injustice meted out to the vulnerable and the neglected, we must help the weak and the disabled to find their rightful place in the society, we must constantly endeavour to convert our earth to a better place for future generations. As they say, "Did you leave the earth a better place than what you found?" We must rise beyond self and work for the betterment of others round us and thus spare a thought for those less fortunate.
In this process of introspection a number of people choose a non-traditional path to tread, sometimes at great loss to their own self, but of great satisfaction in their lives. They willfully choose to serve others rather than themselves and stand apart from others in braving the risks and dangers that lie ahead. Their lives are filled with a missionary zeal in the pursuit of their altruistic goals and they may sometimes win adulation from the general public at large. This praise works like a tonic in propelling them further and faster on the non-traditional path they have chosen and the ego of doing good takes its birth.
These sincere do-gooders start thinking of others as inferior beings who are merely content to fill their bellies and pursue materialistic pleasures. The altruistic soul on the other hand assumes a superiority complex and feels closer to the Almighty in carrying out His desires. The pursuit of doing good fills us with the thought that somehow we are the chosen one and the others have sold their souls to the devil inasmuch as they are obsessed with the comforts of materialism. This ego generated from doing good then becomes dangerous since our pursuit of the goal of helping others is coloured by our own imagined elevation to a higher plateau of existence. This results in our soon forcing our thoughts and action on others and trying forcibly to convert them to our own supposedly superior path of life.
This is so contrary to the teachings of Gita and the Buddhist philosophy which enjoins us to be humble and to treat all actions of ours as God’s will of which we are merely instruments that carry them out. Who are we to assume a superior role when we do something good for the public welfare? The very purpose of fighting injustice and inequality is defeated if we assume ourselves to be more equal than others simply because we are living for others whereas the rest of the world is content with their own self.
This ego of doing good slowly eats into our soul and makes us look at all others as people not worthy of living. In the process of genuinely fighting against inequality we ourselves are creating inequality by derisively looking at others pursuing a materialistic philosophy as being sub-human. Sooner or later, we start searching for the untrodden path because it will make us unique in the eyes of others. We long to get recognized and if that does not happen, frustration is bound to set in.
On the other hand, if we pursue the altruistic path with the thought that God is merely using us as an instrument and we are fortunate to have been chosen so, then the credit is Almighty’s and we are not in any way superior to others. To pursue a benevolent path is a neutral act and does not endow us with an aura of superiority as we falsely believe. The true joy is in the act of giving without any return and this philosophy only can prevent us from believing that we are somehow more worthy to live in this world. The ego of doing good has to be replaced by the humility of neutral thought. As the famous Indian saying goes, "Neki kar aur dariya me daal" (do good and throw it in the river).
The ego of doing good is more dangerous than the ego that comes from becoming powerful or wealthy or materialistically successful. We must be aware of this danger and insulate ourselves with the cloak of humility to selflessly pursue the path of common good. To bring happiness to the maximum number, as Bertrand Russell proclaimed as his goal, is a noble idea but nobler still is to carry out this mission with all humility, unheeded and unnoticed without any ego of superiority.
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