We all know that ego, focus on the self, gets in the way of our relationships. It's hard to really care about someone else, to really listen and empathize if we are preoccupied with our own needs and desires. It's also hard, if not impossible, under these circumstances to have a relationship with God.
There are many different tools for acquiring humility and focusing outside ourselves. Most of these strategies involve diminishing the "I". In fact, just trying to have a conversation without the word "I" brings a heightened -- and frequently frightening -- awareness of the issue. Try it for an hour; I dare you.
Another useful tool is to avoid interrupting others in conversation. "Avoid interrupting?" asked a shocked friend of mine when I made this suggestion. "But I'm from New York; that's not rude, it's just normal conversation."
In an effort to demonstrate the error of her ways I pointed to the line in Ethics of Our Fathers (5:7): [The wise man] does not interrupt the speech of his friend.
Interrupting is all ego. It suggests that what I have to say is more valuable and important than what you have to say.
Interrupting is all ego. It suggests that what I have to say is more valuable and important than what you have to say. Not only does it inappropriately elevate the interrupter, it devalues both the speaker and what he was saying. It wasn't worth hearing to the end. He or she doesn't matter enough to me. Even if that isn't true, that is what we are communicating. My needs, my ideas, my thoughts dominate and leave little room for you.
Someone suggested to me that perhaps it wasn't ego that was the culprit but rather impatience. I certainly don't wish to encourage a competition over which negative character trait it is preferable to have. But I would also suggest that the root of impatience is ego. It goes back to our original proposition. My time and what I have to say are more valuable and trump your time and anything you may wish to impart.
The beauty of using the tool of not interrupting is that we are given constant opportunities to work on it. We engage in conversations all day long. We can grow (or not) hourly.
It's also an easy and effective way to gain perspective on our egos. We can watch ourselves and catch ourselves.
It's very difficult. It seems so simple yet it's such a challenge. It's a great opportunity to laugh at ourselves as we engage in this battle to bite our tongues. But the benefits of just this small change are enormous. All of our relationships will improve. Those we care about will feel heard. Our own ability to care and our amount of caring will deepen.
And when we truly move ourselves out of the way, there will also be room for the Almighty to enter.