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Expand our egos to ... all!

Expand our Egos to ... all!

But, that is the exact opposite of what I was taught as a devout Catholic in the 1930's by Monsignor William and Sister Mary in parochial school. We were taught that we should suppress our Ego so Jesus could come and live in its place. We were supposed to "mortify our flesh," our "lower selves," by fasting, abstinence, and penance--giving up good things. I (my Ego) must die so God could live in me. My Ego was "bad." It led to egotism. All this teaching was "negative."

Well, that whole mentality turned out, in my judgment, to be not only wrong, but even exactly wrong. We should not shrink our Egos; rather, we need to expand them--infinitely! Catholic Christianity, of course, was/is not alone in this negative approach to life--though recently the humorous note has spread that when Catholics meet non-Catholics the standard form of introduction is: "Hi! I am Catholic, and I'm sorry."

Catholicism, and all those in serious contact with Catholics, were significantly moved beyond this negativity by Vatican II's officially embracing dialogue with other Christians, adherents of other religions, and even agnostics/atheists--and the modern world. This more positive approach was significantly retrenched by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their restorationist efforts, but now with the winds of Vatican II once again blowing strongly behind our backs, encouraged by "Everybody's Pope" Francis, that open enthusiasm is flowing around the world once more. Francis has again been harking back to and lifting up Vatican II with its embrace of the modern world in respectful/critical dialogue; it was he who told Catholic youth to "make a mess," who, in referencing gay priests said, "who am I to judge!" and recommended that if you are at a stalemate, "dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!"

I was moved to reflect on these thoughts by a recent article in the New York Times by three social scientists (1) who, on the basis of research, rejected the until-then-prevalent idea that empathy ("vicariously sharing others' experience") is a "'parochial narrow-minded' emotion--one that 'will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive.' " Their experimentation-based research found the assumption, "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic," mistaken. Their research led them to conclude that "empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be."

This brings me back to the Ego. The ethical principle at the foundation of all major--and not-so-major--religions and ethical systems is the so-called "Golden Rule," the first known expression of which is found in both Zoroaster and Confucius in the sixth century B.C.E. As expressed in the Torah and repeated by Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus), it states: "Love your neighbor as yourself." The critical word to note here is "Love your neighbor as yourself." One must love one's "self" (Ego) first.

Love is the unitive movement of the appetitive faculty upon perceiving the "good." For examples, upon seeing a good ice cream cone, we move to become one with it by eating; upon encountering a good performance of Mozart, we become one with it by listening; upon encountering a good friend (in person, or via letter, phone, e-mail, or recollection), we move to become one with her or him by talking, writing, embracing. In other words, "love" means drawing whatever is perceived as "good," to the self, the Ego.

What, then, is the greatest "good" we humans can give ourselves? It is to become ever more completely human, that is, to expand our selves, our Egos, ever more to include our parents, siblings, spouse, children, neighbors, city, country, world--even, according to Rabbi Yeshua, our enemies--but also beyond persons to include animals, plants, and ultimately the Source and Goal of all, Ultimately Reality, however understood.

If I were ever on a ship with my granddaughter Willow, whom I love very much, and suddenly the ship began to sink and there was only one lifejacket for the two of us, I am absolutely certain that I would give her the jacket--and in this certitude I am not at all unusual; I suspect that everybody reading these words knows that they would do the same. What is going on here? My Ego has so expanded as to include Willow even to the point that Willow has become my alter Ego, my other self. I am more present in my alter Ego than I am in my primus Ego! To quote Rabbi Yeshua once more, "Greater love than this has no one, than to give up one's life for one's friend."

Let me circle around again to the Times article, which makes the point that we humans need not necessarily succumb to the empathy-numbing force of numbers--so the one million need not be reduced from persons to a statistic. As they point out, we can choose to open--or close--ourselves to the power of the emotion of empathy. We can decide to give ourselves the "greatest self-gift": open-ended, ever-expanding love that stretches our Ego to expand boundlessly. That requires reflection, decision, and repeated effort--which is how empathy will eventually move from being an emotion to a virtue--which is the habit of choosing the good!

Leonard Swidler

dialogue@temple.edu

(1) Daryl Cameron, Michael Inzlit, and William A. Cunningham, "Empathy Is Actually a Choice," New York Times, January 12, 2015.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Author:Swidler, Leonard
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2015
Words:886
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