Ego and It’s a Wonderful LIfe 7 May 2008Posted by mecca in Culture, Psychology.
We wish to assert our existence…. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get? At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down. — Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin.
There is reason to be fascinated by the ironies of living with a religious bearing. We are lodged in a world whose “stuff” we must mine, bend, or consume in order to survive, but we are charged to be wary of being worldly. We’re also dependent on our senses, yet salvation is uncompromisingly fixed to belief in the unseen. We are curious, rational, and attracted to discovery, philosophy, and debates, but are cautioned against absorption in pursuits that “change the subject” and ignore the urgency of living, that is, the brevity of life and what that really means beyond biology and the last morphine drops. We are also warned about matters of the ego and humility, of hubris and gratitude, but we naturally dislike and are sensitive to humiliation, slight, or haughtiness. We would like to be acknowledged for what we do—and often it’s an obligation—but we must be mindful of tainting good intentions with ostentation or desire for renown.
One of my favorite films is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” What I like best is the part when George Bailey is given the chance to see how life in Bedford Falls would have been had he not existed. Be honest, wouldn’t it be great to know how terrible things would be had it not been for each of us? We all would like to leave an impact, and almost invariably we’d like to think that the impact is “important” if not indispensable. As Atwood says, we’d like to “assert our existence.”