I used to get a kick when people would share a quote by Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. accompanied with a selfie. The age of ego so rampant that even words meant to elicit the spirit of togetherness are instead used to promote self. But recently I gained a new found wisdom that made me realize that I was being a bit too harsh on folks who use quotes to highlight themselves. Selfie philosophers are no different than the rest of humanity—including the people we love to quote. We are all driven by ego; even the most humble among us are motivated by a need to express our significance.
A couple of years ago—when I was in the midst of searching for answers and contemplating existential matters—I arrived at a decision to convert to Judaism. Part of that process entailed visiting a Jewish temple and initiating the conversion process. I traveled to the 6th and I St Synagogue in DC to meet with a local rabbi. When I arrived for my appointment, I struck up a conversation with the security guard; when I told the security guard about my aims, the guard advised me to not make such a big life choices in a rush and told me that I should instead come to the synagogue for Friday night service and observe for a couple of weeks before I jump in. It was the counsel of this security guard, ironically named Christian, that led to me remain in the same Orthodox Christian faith I was born into. I took Christian’s advise and attended service on a cold Friday night in the middle of February to explore the possibilities that we wafting through my mind.
That Friday, I attended a Friday evening service on the same day Purim was being celebrated. After initial prayers, the rabbi took to the floor and started to speak of man’s battle with ego and how we struggle to find our identity and understand our significance. He then spoke on the issue of fame and why we idolize the rich and well-known; the rabbi explained that we lionize the elites because we want to be well-known too. We conflate mass-acceptance with inner-worth; in the process we seek those who are acclaimed hoping that we get noticed by derivative. The rabbi gave an example of how we take pictures with famous politicians so that we can post it on social media and tell the world “look I matter too!”.
Social media and the age of omnipresent information has inflated our egos into the size of gargantuan dirigibles. Instant validation and gratification by ways of likes and shares has reduced human interaction into transactional virtual handshakes. Depth of conversation is slowly becoming passe and obsolete, quantity is what matters as we accumulate friends the way Donald Trump accumulates hair plugs. Every day our dialogues become shorter as WYD now passes for love notes while we keep trying to get our voices heard by any means necessary—have you seen what some people do in order to get views on YouTube! Google has turned everyone into the oracles of Delphi; what need is there to listen to others when infinite information awaits at our fingerprints.
Ego has become the GPS of society; everyone is in a rush to prove their superiority as we keep yelling past one another. Think about it, when was the last time you had a dialogue where you debated the merits of a particular issue and spent more time listening than you did talking? We have morphed into a personality of cults because we want to be worshiped just like the people we keep worshiping. At the core of most conflicts can be found ego; the need to be right and the desire to accumulate more and more for self is the inferno of hate and antagonism that is lambasting the world.
Some of the most profound statements and observations are made from regular Joes and Jennys who work and live right in our immediate circumference. Yet we rarely take to social media to quote Jane the Waffle House waitress or Joe the deli slicer. I have noticed people quoting everyone from Jay Z, Joel Osteen to the ignoramus Trump not because what they said was sublime but because these oft quoted people are famous. Gazing into the navel of the illustrious comes with two perils. First, we keep following “leaders” who have no other claim to fame aside from claiming their fame. This is problematic, famous people are willing to do anything to remain famous—including feeding all of us to the wolves of Wall Street. Moreover, we end up devaluing our own significance by comparing our worth based on wealth and status that almost none of us will be able to attain.
Over the past two years, I have met some of the most amazing people who are the polar opposite of the famous people we keep quoting and following. A homeless veteran in Greenville, South Carolina had more wisdom than any professor I’ve been taught by. A single mother in Ankeny, Iowa offered some of the most sage advice I’ve heard in my life. Yet, rarely do I quote these anonymous people who have influenced my life as I instead race to quote people I’ve never met like Thoreau and Nietzsche. I’m doing exactly as the rabbi noted in his sermon a couple of years ago; I cite renowned thinkers and philosophers because I want to reside next to them. I mean if I quoted someone you never heard of, would my quote stand out in your mind? As I promote great thinkers I am all along promoting myself. As I speak against ego, it is ego that drives my need to make a difference.
Conflicts would lessen in this world and we would get the virtuous leaders we deserve when we stop letting ego lead us and instead try our hardest to let humility be our guiding light. Perhaps we must go through the age before us where narcissism seems to be society’s watch word only to eventually realize the folly of haughtiness. Until then, I’ll try not to guffaw too much when I see a selfie being posted along with a quote from Mother Theresa. After all, I started a website to share my thoughts to the world so am I really any different than selfie philosophers? When it comes to ego, I stand guilty with three fingers pointing back at me and a throbbing plank in my eye each time I try to judge the conceit of others. Ill make changes on the margin in honor of humility; I’m going to quote not so famous people for the rest of the week—maybe I’ll get famous for paying homage to the least among us. #Me2Fame
“Life was so much better when apple and blackberry were just fruits.” ~ Dilip Sheth
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Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss the root cause of many who seek outward validation as a means of measuring inner worth.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.