Ego and Taking Things Personally

I’m currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.  One of the things Tolle talks about is the ego’s need to be right.  He distinguishes between a simple statement of fact and identification with a particular position.  Thus, to use his example, if I say “Light travels faster than sound,” I am making a factual statement.  Someone may disagree with it, and they would be incorrect in doing so.  But simply stating what I know to be true does not necessarily involve the ego. 

However, Tolle points out, identification with mind and a mental postiion can easily arise.  “If you find yourself saying, ‘Believe me, I know’ or ‘Why do yoiu never believe me?’ then the ego has already crept in.  It is hiding in the little word ‘me.’  A simple statement, ‘Light is faster than sound,’ although true, is now in the service of illusion, of ego.  It has become…personalized, turned into a mental position.  The ‘I’ feels diminished or offended becuase somebody doesn’t believe what ‘I’ said.”  What results is defensiveness, anger, agression.

Perhaps I react so strongly to reading this because I see the reaction often in myself.  It drives me crazy when I know I’m right about something and someone doesn’t accept “my rightness.” Indeed, I experienced this just last evening.  My husband and I were driving my daughter to a party at a friend’s house that we had never been to before.  He was driving and I had the mapquest directions and map.  We hit an intersection where it was obvious to me were supposed to turn right.  My husband was convinced we need to go straight, so he went straight, ignoring my instruction.  Ultimately I persuaded him that we were on the wrong road and we turned around and found our way to where we needed to drop my daughter off (exactly where I had said we should go). 

I sat silently, seething inside.  What was going through my mind was precisely, “You never think I’m right when it comes to directions.  I knew the way to go and you didn’t believe me.”  I felt, in Tolle’s words, “diminished…offended” that he didn’t believe what I said.

My reaction had nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with the ego.  And so I sat for a while feeling angry.  Fortunately, I could see what I was doing and was able to let go:  I looked ahead on the road and saw a brightly colored pair of boxer shorts directly in our path.  As we drove over them, I saw in a flash two options – continuing to fume silently or making some joking comment about running over the boxing shorts.  I chose the latter and left the defensiveness behind.