By Harendra de Silva –
As we rise in the ranks, we acquire more power. When we have power, other people would want to please us by appearing to listen more attentively, agreeing with our fantasies and laughing at our jokes. All of these ‘tickles’ our ego. In Sri Lanka around most leaders, there are the “yes sir, no sir” whom I call ‘catchers’ who profess to be experts and advisers some who even reinforces the “three bags full” (of money??) concept. The same habit is applicable to opposition even when they are not in power! Some depend on their old school tie, trusting only the closed circle. Autistic traits may contribute? Bending into 3 or even to 5 when greeting leaders is another way of tickling the ego of leaders! Some may even end up with near orgasms! For Royalty there is a documented protocol even to step back after greeting!! Before meeting Princess Anne, at the award ceremony for the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Child heath, I remember being coached before the ceremony… But I messed it up right Royally!!… Long years ago, watching ‘yes minister/prime minister gave me a glimpse of ignorant ministers and prime ministers led by the manipulative administration! However, if it is for the good of the people we don’t mind.
When the ego is pleased, it grows, into a vicious cycle, gathering momentum and getting swept off the feet, away from reality! David Owen, and Jonathan Davidson, call this the “hubris syndrome,” which they define as a “disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success (? Often only Perceived), held for a period of years”. In Sri Lanka. Not periods of years; it takes only a few seconds for our hierarchy to ‘fill their empty vessels with non-existent matter to make more noise! We are Unique as a sub species. Even by the way they walk, with extended arms twisted backwards and a handphone directed backwards and the chest and head forward defines the ‘brand’ of person! However, it is not limited to politicians.
A certain degree of ego but better defined as self-esteem is crucial for survival, but unchallenged ego can spiral our values into negative values. In the words of Jennifer Woo, “Managing our ego’s craving for fortune, fame, and influence is the prime responsibility of any leader.” When we’re caught in the grip of the ego’s craving for more power, we lose control. Ego makes us susceptible to manipulation; it narrows our field of vision; and it corrupts our behaviour, often causing us to act against our values”. Our open mindedness become extinct with directions from the top manipulated by the catchers around us and compounded by surrounding insecurity, makes a rational person (before assuming office), just a robot who cannot use logic inculcated in our forebrain. Certain cultural protocols catalyse this effect!
“Our ego is like a target, the bigger it is, the more vulnerable it is to being hit. Because our ego constantly craves attention. It makes us predictable. When people know this, the manipulators can play to our ego. When we’re a victim of our own need, to be seen as ‘great’, we end up being led into making decisions that may be detrimental to ourselves, and people at large.” Making us mere tools of maintaining power for others!
Leaders at whatever level, who cannot comprehend reality without feet on the ground, always have catchers around him/her who lift them up, and purposely prevent him or her in getting a wide range of opinions especially from true professionals or grass roots. They don’t believe in INDEPENDENT THINK TANKS. THESE ADVISORS who pose as experts are pseudo experts with borrowed opinions, who come close to the leadership by stooping and bum sucking! They advise how to take decisions that would be beneficial politically and often personal Monetary gain. But not for the benefit of the people. These catchers often have links to businessmen, underworld and even international connections or Mafias. They do not allow anyone else to get close. It also keeps leaders’ content and happy in their perceived secure bubble… But often led down the garden path…. At a conference in Winnipeg on child soldiers, I remember how ‘advisors’ tried hard (unsuccessfully) to prevent me from meeting Minister Kadiragamar face to face, but advise from me had to go through them (with their interpretations and distortions). At another conference in New York, the Health Minister had to be advised through ‘them’… so that they get all the credit! It was frustrating all right. This is only a vee bit of my experience. I am sure others could write volumes on the subject. Keeping quiet on our experiences make us passive perpetrators.
In the midst of the damning Corona pandemic, why are brilliant minds of vast experience being kept aside? The popularity of being spokesmen has led to a battle with most getting shuffled around in the merry-go-round? Prof. Malik Pieris the retired virologist from Hong Kong is hardly seen. He should be the Anthony Fauci of Sri Lanka! Prof Kamini Mendis and Dr. Palitha Abeykoon are names that come to my mind who have enormous International experience.
Another side effect of ego is denial. In the present epidemic we have constantly denied community spread, calling everything a bubble! Obviously if common sense prevails: when bubbles expand, adjacent bubble coalesce to form one huge bubble; i.e. community spread. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the ego in us, (maybe the ministry officials or others) simply refuse to admit reality which is unacceptable and unmanageable. Moving out of denial may be felt as denigratory to the inflated ego?
An inflated ego also corrupts our behaviour. When we are made to believe that: we’re the sole architects of our success (for example the war, where a group effort is made into personal achievement for egoistic gain). We saw the battles off the battlefield recently whether we are ‘in’ the ‘group of seven’ or not! we tend to be arrogant, ruder, more selfish, and often justifying violations. Another defence mechanism of egoism is arrogance! Getting angry and screaming at a person questioning your actions, is a short-term strategy of not admitting ignorance. This is especially true in the face of setbacks (popularity) and criticism. In this way, an inflated ego prevents us from learning from our mistakes and creates a defensive (Impenetrable?) wall that makes it difficult to appreciate the rich lessons we gather from failure. I believe people keep on making worse mistakes with increasing confidence in the face of an applauding audience of bum suckers! Since we tend to be in a closed bubble hearing only what we want to hear, often with filtered and modified information by the catchers, more like a frog in a well concept!
Why did the olden day kings disguise themselves and mingle with the common man? To hear and feel reality! They could not trust the close advisors; I suppose. Some time ago there was a story about one of our presidents who tried it? But there is no authenticity to the story. It destroys a “visionary” leader who may have had a vision, but converted it merely to a delusionary dream adulterated by “advisors”, those who funded or supported victory!
Why does this happen?? Most if not all of us are insecure to different extents and in our bid to survive we have to depend as a group! However, in this endeavour, instead of surviving as a Nation, we sub group within us, as බය්යෝ, ටෝය්යෝ, ජප්පෝ, LTTE, Wahab etc. Each of these subgroups too may have many egoists and most have the egoistic tunnel vision of surviving with varying agendas though the ultimate aim is POWER. All these groups also have the advisors i.e. bum suckers and funders who thrive on hate, racism and bigotry, power, money and violence in order to elevate the egoism in their own leaders while making themselves comfortable and secure!!
Long Live Egoistic Leaders! Damn the country and the people! Is this our motto? We and our leaders themselves need to be mindful of the damage done by egoism.
STOP. Think of our own egoism in our own little bubbles including you and me! It is a natural survival mechanism of homo sapiens, even within our own family bubble? We need to be mindful in reducing it and differentiate it from self-esteem which is crucial.
*Adapted and interpreted by Prof Harendra de Silva. Adapted from Ego Is the Enemy of Good Leadership