One interesting thing about the ego is how it likes to swell with pride. Have you ever been in the situation where someone looks at you and says something like, “You have beautiful eyes,” and you think, “Wow!”—as if you deserved credit for the compliment?
It tickles me when someone comes up to me and says, “You are the spitting image of my Uncle Fred”—and you may be thinking, “Now, his Uncle Fred might be ugly,” but somehow I swell with pride that I look just like his Uncle Fred. The ego wants to take credit for everything. It is amazing the greed it has.
One symptom of the ego’s greed is its feeling that it is not acknowledged enough. But if my hand picks up my glasses, do I think, “Thank you, hand, for picking up the glasses.” Suppose my hand wanted to take credit for everything it did?
One day I was painting a picture and someone said, “You did a beautiful job.” If the hand said, “What about me? I did all the work!” I would have to say, “No, hand, it was not you, it was the arm. Without the arm you could not work.” So the arm would swell with pride and I would have to tell it that without the brain it could not operate. And without the love of painting, the brain could not operate. Where does the credit go? Who does the work of art?
Suppose you do a good deed for your neighbor and the neighbor says, “That was so charitable of you. You are such a loving, wonderful person.” And your ego starts to swell with pride. But there is something inappropriate about that reaction.
Now suppose a person says, “It wasn’t me; it was God who did it.” How do you react?
The reality is that all good is done by our Higher Power, through people. Our Higher Power gives the lower orders of creation the feeling that we are doing good, and we get to have this wonderful sense of participation.
There is a wonderful parable in the New Testament in which Jesus talks about the master and the servant. When the servant comes in to eat, the master says, “Feed me first and then feed yourself.” So the servant feeds the master. Jesus says, “Does the master thank the servant because he did what he was supposed to do? So likewise you, when you have done all these things which are commanded say, ‘We are servants and we have done that which was our duty to do.’”
How can you take credit for doing anything in your life? Does this question ring true for you, or does it leave something left out?
Aren’t we supposed to thank one another? How do you feel when people thank you? You feel like they appreciated what you did, right?
What if they leaned on you and said, “You don’t really get it—I am thanking you because you did a wonderful thing here.” Don’t let it throw you off balance when people thank you too much; we know in our hearts that what we do is so little.
I have had the pleasure of going to the opera. Suppose someone in the opera said, “I want to thank you for going to the opera. It was so good of you to go to the opera.” I would say, “Now wait a minute, I did not go to the opera to get brownie points; I went to the opera to enjoy it.”
If you were to thank an angel profusely for living a good life and doing so many useful things, the angel would feel uncomfortable. “I am not doing it to get credit. I am doing it because I love to do it and it is not me doing it anyway, the Lord does it. I am just the instrument.” It is like thanking the trumpet for the concerto. Sometimes I feel like a trumpet in the Lord’s hands; sometimes battered and beaten and dented, but every now and then some music comes through.
If you applaud Russian performers, they applaud back to you. Why? Have you ever been in the position where you have done something and you have felt like clapping? There are many things involved, but one is gratitude that other people want to come and hear you sing. For me I know it is gratitude that I can sing, or paint, or whatever it is.
The ego has an insatiable appetite for praise and glory. I find it is an interesting challenge to not get caught up in this thought that “I deserve this” or “What do I get out of this?” or “Am I getting enough praise?” These are the things the ego demands.
What is the opposite of taking credit? It is taking blame. Now consider a related emotion: the fear of being blamed. Instead of craving credit, the ego fears blame and criticism. Consider the person who is afraid to talk in public because he will feel so ashamed if he does a bad job of it. What is the assumption behind that? Somehow he is supposed to be brilliant, and if he’s not brilliant people will not like him.
Both sides of this emotional coin—pride and fear of criticism— can cripple our ability to gracefully accept gratitude and criticism. In reality, it is simply a privilege to be alive and a privilege to serve.
The musician plays music from a love of doing it. In my own life, I got started on some of the good things I did because I wanted praise and glory. Later, I realized that I did those things because they were useful to others. In the spiritual sense, you find after a while that you do something for someone because you love to do it—which means you are shifting to a higher level where the love of doing good is more powerful than the love of being rewarded for doing it.
So the task this week is to look at the ways in which our greedy ego tries to take credit for things, and at how you react when you feel you are not getting enough credit or when you fear blame.
Tools for Task 3
- Observe your reactions when you are not given the credit you feel you deserve.
Think about a time when your hard work was not recognized by others or rewarded with gratitude. What emotions came up from your basement? Did you feel injured or slighted? Notice if you have a love for praise as a reward. Can you replace it with gratitude for the opportunity to serve?
- Examine your reactions to blame—the opposite of praise.
How have you felt when you were unfairly blamed for a failure or oversight? Which of your “beasts” tried to take control of your reactions? Did anger, fear, or jealously enter your mind and drag you down?
- Remember your reactions when you were praised.
Recall a time when you received praise. Did you swell with pride? Did that pride make you forget how others contributed to your success? Do you often like to take full credit for good work? Take a moment now to let go of credit, and thank your Higher Power for the goodness that flows through you.