Most times we make sense of different ideas with reference to the degree of their agreement with and correspondence to our own private notions. For instance when we encounter a face and try to determine the degree of its relation with us a complex neurological operation takes place where parts of the brain determine the person’s identity, other parts retrieve pieces of information on his or her relatedness to us. This is a cooperative neurological effort which informs the conscious flow of data in the brain.
Here we can say that our assimilation and perception of external data transmitted by other beings is involved in a continuous act of collision or agreement with them. If we look closer to the way individual egos respond to texts, words and expressions, we find out that it is based specifically and primarily on a biological foundation and is therefore closely linked with the experiences stored in our long memory which differs from one person to the other.
We can then say that our understanding of things and the way we perceive and respond to them is mediated by the complex ego which has its share of imagination. We can never claim to be absolutely objective, but what we can do is to deal with each idea, with notions which are unfamiliar and external to the structuring foundations of our individual perception by shaping up the individual ego in the pursuit of knowledge and discovery.
It is obvious that the ego model differs according to cultural and social backgrounds. This is described by anthropologists as the ‘cultural model’ where it has been noted that individuals who deal with texts foreign to and different from their own culture find it difficult to understand such texts and would resort to reconstruct them all over again to give them new meanings different from the original or intended ones but more attuned to their own cultural perception. In other examples, the unfamiliar or foreign texts are totally rejected. In this context, British psychologist Frederic Bartlett identified different cognitive schemata in the human brain. Instincts and drives play a leading role in the formation of this cognitive process, which is later structured around other variables such as ideals and social mores found in different societies, added to that the important role of collective and individual interests.
I have chosen this introduction in order to explain some of the mechanisms of individual response to and dealing with that which is different from their own ideas and way of thinking. My aim is to analyze the phenomenon of the failure to listen to or understand what the other is trying to say.
Personally, I believe that this condition has something to do with the condition of the ego. We should try to give up a little bit that ‘ego’ which is always trying to ascertain itself and learn that the ‘ego’ which is different from ours does not necessarily cancel out our individual self and can rather complement it. Then we can perhaps one day fill up all those wide empty spaces which surround us so that we can reach a better and wider perception, an affinity with the other’s ego and from there to attune ourselves with all living creatures and with nature itself. Perhaps then we can reconcile ourselves with the death instinct to embrace freedom and return to inanimate matter where there is absolute rest, unconsciousness and the end of existential strife. This is why I think it is better to seek ways to prevail over suffering. Death represents for us the fear and anxiety of pain and annihilation. Our goal is not to prevail over death but to live and die without pain. This is why I find attempts which seek to reduce the principle of tyranny and find a way to get out of the vicious circle of struggle supported by the ‘ego’ all leading to the principle of freedom itself.
Perhaps my words will be understood in ways so different from what I meant to say, but at the same time I believe in the validity of all individual attempts without falling in the trap of righteousness. We are all breathing through this self, all of us are struggling to impose this ‘ego’, trying to improve our daily existence and overcome all factors which contribute to the oppression of the other. This is the reality principle colliding with our instincts, postponing the pleasure principle in favor of civilized acts of sublimation.
But we need to ask ourselves the following question, aren’t all forms of sublimation flowing in the receptacle of the ego to strengthen it and mislead it from all historical and instinctual perspectives? In other words, I believe that transcendence and sublimation without the consciousness of external facts can only worsen the condition of confinement in visions and notions. Didn’t myths, religions and ideologies exist as a form of unconscious collective and individual sublimation to the point that we became a flock unable to make sense of the experiences hidden behind words and expressions?
If we look closer, we see that all those who are closed in on their notions and cultures (and here I mean culture in a comprehensive sense) are having a hard time dealing with ideas which are unfamiliar to them because different from their own. We see them getting carried away by shiny words which they neither feel nor understand. That explains the clash between their acts and their words.
Yes, we are all prone to falling in the trap of the ego which claims to know everything, but thanks to our accumulating consciousness and our serious attempts to embrace thought, we can curb this ego, put it into perspective. When we do so, we can take off towards wide open horizons to meet the other. When we get through the wall which separates egos we can connect with other selves to achieve a more advanced and comprehensive level of perception.
What we need to do today is to unearth all individual and collective experiences and to reconcile the reality principle with instincts and the pleasure principle. This can be possible only after a journey in the past and the realization that a measure of truth is present in each premise, in every human experience. What we are after is the idea of complementing rather than cancelling each other out.
Before I conclude my article, I wish to draw the reader’s attention to the idea that the aggrandizement of the ego is something common in all individuals and all societies. But it is more noticeable in our own (Arab societies) more than anywhere else. Take for example the phenomenon of ridiculing the other and his or her serious attempts to express his or her individual self. Wouldn’t it be more becoming of us to avoid this propensity towards judging the other? It is nice to endorse this idea in words but it would be even better if we can follow words with concrete acts.
It is very easy to fall in the trap of the ego, to rush to refuting ideas which do not agree with the ones we hold to be accurate and true. We need to be careful and try to avoid this trap and convince ourselves that knowledge can be achieved only through the widening of our perception and the conscious decision to think beyond our little and personal desires and self-interests.