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The Paradox of Egotism

July 7, 2010

I have done quite a bit of writing in the past few years, and the vast majority of that writing is wholly egotistical in nature. By “egotistical” I’m not referring to egoism, or self-interest– egotism refers to the tendency to think and behave as if the world revolved around you. That is exactly how I think and act– as if I were the only person of value in the world, and that therefore my thoughts are representative of the thoughts of the world.

Of course I didn’t know that– it’s not as if I deliberately thought of things like that– it’s been a mostly subconscious thing– until now. But up until this point, everything that I’ve said and done has been quite literally egotistical; as a result, everything that I’ve said to other people has been merely “thinking out loud”, and everything that I’ve done equate to no more than selfish impulses.

It is because of this paradoxical mindset that I have been unable write effective essays, and more importantly, has prevented me from being able to truly understand what it means to “respect” someone. When “it’s all about me”, everyone else has no influence on my actions or words, and the result is a distorted lifestyle devoid of any “real” meaning.

Why is egotism a paradox? Egotism is motivated by the conception that my thoughts and actions are more important than anyone else’s, and so therefore I should act accordingly. This is well and good, but it fails to account for the source of value: Everyone else.

Like it or not, value is the end-product of the communication (in various forms) between people– or on a more cosmic scale, between the universe and itself. For this reason, nothing can be of value unless I take everyone and everything into account. I while back, I promised myself I would do just that,  but it seems that I’ve lost sight of why this was so crucially important. Because my own value is determined by my consideration and understanding of other people, it’s paradoxical to live an egotistic lifestyle, because I myself do not have any value unless I value everyone and everything else (to some extent) too.

When I was thinking about what I did wrong with my essay (for English class), it occurred to me that I hadn’t develop my writing to appeal to a particular audience; I hadn’t even considered an audience when writing. It was just me thinking out load– articulate but ultimately raw ramblings masked in the form of an essay. I wasn’t asking the essential questions– “what will the teacher think of the essay”. Instead, I thought “of course she’s like it– it’s my writing.

This kind of thinking is not only a distorted mindset, but also one that is detrimental to my personal success in life. No one can do well in life unless they take other people into account. Success comes from other people being able to appreciate your work, and it’s not reasonable to expect other people to understand your own raw thoughts. That’s what I haven’t been doing that I really should be– I’m not filtering my actions according what other people will think. I filter everything according to what I think, and this self-centered mindset is going to get me nowhere.

If I want people to appreciate my work, I’m going to have to “interpret it”; I need to find out what my “audience” is interested in, what their level of education is, what their philosophical viewpoints are– what they think. To seriously influence, and especially to inspire other people requires knowing your audience as much as possible. I need to learn to anticipate my readers’ / audience’s reactions beforehand– otherwise my writing is wasted on them. By knowing what they will think before they even think it– I will have the social momentum I need to inspire people…

And as it turns out, the best first step to getting to know people, is to value them: their opinions, their perspectives, their needs, and who they are as a person.

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