“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” These simple yet profound words by the American writer and thinker, Upton Sinclair, can explain so much in the world. And, these words lend themselves to all manner of adaptations. For example: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his [grip on power] depends on his not understanding it. Or: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his [status] depends on his not understanding it. Going further, we can also extend these words to a person’s relationship with themselves, to the very core of their identity — their self-image
Such that we can say that it is difficult to get a person to understand something, when their self-image depends on them not understanding it. The mental blocks of denial due to self-interest are one thing, what we are talking about here is something deeper. This is self-preservation, but not of the physical kind — this is preservation of self-image.
You might become so invested in some idea of who you think you are or should be that any challenge is met with dogmatic resistance. Even if the challenge is only to a mental self-image, your response may be highly defensive, born of fear. Fear, as if your very organism is coming under attack even when there is no physical threat.
How can this be?
The human mind is a trickster that can pin its self-worth — your self-worth — to all manner of ideas. Ideas that the human ego uses to derive a sense of validation and safety from. Ideas that when challenged create a sense of tangible threat, even though it is only a challenge to a mental image.
And, these tricks are played by you, on you, hidden outside of your conscious awareness. Yet, you might feel the impact of these tricks through unease and mental tension. Through a heavy heart and an anxious mind. The funny thing is that it is not noticing our own self-image that is the source of difficulty. Paradoxically, we create a self-image that we don’t quite dare to look at!
Looking at your self-image
The first step to breaking free is to recognise that we are all victims of our mind’s tricks by virtue of being human. That we each create some idea of whom we think we are and then seek to defend it, often non-consciously. It is then about having the courage to notice and investigate your attachment to this self-image. And, how it might keep you trapped in a place of inner tension.
Liberation comes through seeing.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.