Ego Is Your Enemy
I put aside some time recently to crack open Ego Is the Enemy, a new book from The New York Times’ bestselling author, and occasional Classical Wisdom contributor, Ryan Holiday.
‘…ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Of repeating and retaining your success. It’s a magnet for enemies and errors. It is Scylla and Charybdis.’
– Ryan Holiday, Ego Is The Enemy
If you caught that classical reference at the end, there’s a reason for it. As Ryan puts it, ‘Like my other books, this one is deeply influenced by Stoic philosophy and indeed all the great classical thinkers.’
Ryan’s a man after our own heart — a writer who uses the wisdom of antiquity to inspire and cultivate the life of the modern citizen.
Most good ideas are old ideas, and the idea that our ego is the enemy is not just old…it’s ancient!
Hate Those Who Flatter
Ego Is The Enemy opens the first chapter by mentioning the ancient essayist and philosopher Isocrates.
‘Sometime around the year 374 B.C., Isocrates, one of the most well-known teachers and rhetoricians in Athens, wrote a letter to a young man named Demonicus. Isocrates had been a friend of the boy’s recently deceased father and wanted to pass on to him some advice on how to follow his father’s example.’
– Ryan Holiday, Ego Is The Enemy
Thanks, Ryan. We’ll take it from here.
‘Letter to Demonicus’, as the piece is known, is brief by ancient standards. You could read the whole shebang in a few minutes. All the same, the letter is filled with practical advice intended to arm the young man for the years ahead.
Isocrates warns Demonicus to ‘Hate those who flatter as much as those who deceive, for both, if trusted, injure those who trust them.’ And that a young man of noble stock should, ‘Consider that propriety, a sense of shame, justice, and self-control, especially become you; for by all these a young man’s character seems to be adorned.’
Isocrates, in essence, is urging Demonicus to follow the precepts of goodness that would be later propounded by the likes of Socrates and Plato.
Plato believed the soul was like a chariot, pulled along by two wild horses. The horses represented our desires, both noble and ignoble, and it is only through the skill of a veteran charioteer (wisdom) that we are able to control the direction of the chariot and avoid catastrophe by letting our desires run rampant.
An ego, left unchecked, has the tendency to lead to disaster and ruin. It is only through the skilled hand of virtue, wisdom and modesty that we are able to properly engage our soul in the necessary duties of life.
Ego, as Holiday puts it, is indeed the enemy.
The Internet Has Made You Ignoble
We usually propose that lessons from antiquity are just as important now as they were thousands of years ago. Today’s particular missive is unique in that it’s not just as important — it’s more important now than it’s ever been.
It has never been easier than it is today to indulge in self-aggrandisement. As Holiday puts it, ‘Now, more than ever, our culture fans the flames of ego.’
We stick out our chest; share our perspective on social media outlets with the assumption that our opinions innately matter. Young people are taught that they, by their mere existence, are special. We are told to follow our dreams and that success is all but guaranteed.
I’ve observed old friends sink into depression or mania when the realities of the world come crashing down. They are not rock gods or movie stars by the age of 27, and are therefore cheated out of the future they were promised.
The ego has run amok. The horses have slipped the reins. The charioteer is asleep at the wheel.
If ego is the enemy, then wisdom and modesty are your allies. Our classical forbearers knew this lesson well. Socrates said, ‘It would be better for me… that multitudes of men should disagree with me rather than that I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself.’
Cultivate virtue and wisdom. Learn to, as Isocrates says, ‘hate flatterers’, and that includes the flatterer within all of us.
All the best,
For The Escapologist
Editor’s Note: This article comes courtesy of Classical Wisdom Weekly. To read more from our friends in the US, go to www.classicalwisdom.com.