Ego and egotism has become a pejorative term, usually associated with people who are driven by the preservation of the ego they have painstakingly constructed over the years. You know people with the resultant traits. The boastful one, the angry one, the defensive one, even the shy one (yes shyness is social acceptable egotism, the thought that everyone is looking at and observing lil ol' you).
But the ego is not evil in and of itself if you are able to afford yourself a bit of perspective. It's a self preservation construct created as a protective survival device. It is what keeps you safe in treacherous situations, what warns you of impending danger and can guides us on an unconscious level. As we no longer have bears and sabre-toothed tigers hunting us down, those dangers have now become emotional rather than physical. (Unfortunately the need to keep us safe can also prevent us from trying new things or breaking out of redundant patterns).
As children, we experience a myriad of emotional onslaughts. We are bombarded with information on who people are and how they function in the world and in turn how we should respond and react to weather this. Notice how, when kids experience trauma, they can be unnervingly calm. Far from Hollywood's depiction of children as fully formed emotional beings who feel other's pain and understand the gravity of a situation, they often act as though what they're experiencing is normal. In reality, they have no point of reference so often, simply store the experience for later retrieval (usually when they find themselves in a situation that mirrors the original scenario).
For example, if a child experiences the father leaving the parental home at a young age, they may not wail and moan about their loss. Instead, they'll store that information in their heads as, "If you love a man, he'll leave you" or "I push people away" and that nugget lays dormant in the spirit until, guess what, you try and start a relationship and you end up pushing men away and don't understand why (I'm not talking about me here, this is purely hypothetical... sort of... totally, anyway).
God bless the ego. It's nothing but a construct, a mechanism which is part of but not all of the human consciousness. Our problem is that we have not truly gotten, on an experiential level, that that's the case. When we get what power and destruction our unwaivering investment in the ego causes, then we'll start to truly become free or it (or freer at least). We'll then be able to rid ourselves of some of the pervasive traits that are ailing our societies, for example, greed, individualism, self-righteousness, violence, aggression, our unnatural romance with the rich and famous, many of these things will become less present when we start to get a bit of personal freedom from the ego.
At the moment, most people think they are their mind, they don't draw a distinction between their thinking and their thoughts, between the one thinking and the thoughts being had. Most people's experience is, I am my thoughts, which is why arguments (as opposed to discussions) very rarely get adequately resolved. The two parties arguing have no sense that they're arguing not about the subject matter, even though, on the surface that's what it looks like, no, they're arguing in defense of their ego. I'm right and I need to prove it or, you're wrong and I'm going to show you, then you'll be sorry.
It doesn't matter what the subject is, be it some hot political discussion, religious debate or whether to let the cat sleep on the bed, most people who get into heated arguments (i,e. where they have an emotional reaction) are arguing in defense of themselves and not the topic.
Most arguments (especially in close relationships such as partners, work colleagues and siblings) are usually over sweet Fanny Adams but the ego loves nothing more than to be right so instead of staying on topic, the argument crag hops from one subject to another in an attempt to obtain the sweet buzz of self-righteousness. How often does an argument about a cat sleeping on the bed end up being about the fact that 'this relationship is going nowhere because you never listen to me'?
I used to be one of the most argumentative people around. I remember being in a bar with a girlfriend once and two cute guys approached us. My friend flirted with one of them but when she turned back I was in the middle of a huge barney with the other guy about Princess Diana. I can't even remember the crux of the discussion, all I knew was, he was wrong and I was going to prove it even it killed me.
I'm very lucky that I can see that mechanism in place and get hooked less frequently now and when I do, I can usually pull myself back out of it. But how do know when you're hooked? When you feel tingle, the charge of emotion creeping into the discussion. If you experience that, you've already lost because it's no longer you speaking but all your past experiences, your loves, your losses, your personal disappointments. Hell, you don't never really need the other person there, they're just acting as a trigger for you to pour out all this bile that you have stored up, waiting to purge whenever anyone gives you the excuse. It's unhealthy and unproductive but us humans sure do get a trip off that feeling which is why we often generate potential arguments in our head when we've got no one to spar with. How often have you imagined someone you know, saying something that's wound you up and then had an imaginary argument with them in your head about something they never said!
The idea that we are not our thoughts will be familiar to some and alien, even disagreeable to others but when you look at most disagreements, that is the elephant in the room that gets in the way of most conflict resolutions.
When we get that being right is an opinion, not a fact, then as a species, we might start getting somewhere. But even if I'm right, that doesn't matter because as the old saying goes, a herd can only move as fast as its slowest member.
Every time legislation is passed securing equality for a marginalised group, every time a cease fire is called in a war-torn district, every time a billionaire donates disproportionately from his wealth to a charitable cause, every time a sportsman comes out as gay and is embraced by society, every time a priest cartwheels down the aisle after a royal wedding, a conversation about the nature of ego is had, a conversation about how we can make the world a better place, every time someone from an under privileged background achieves well-beyond expectation and inspires others to do the same, it should give us hope that we're on the right path. We have a lot of work to do but we'll get there. I know, what a hippy, right? Maybe it's because I used to sleep with a cat on the bed.
And remember, while there's all kinds of horrors in the world, there's also things like this.... Enjoy