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Monitoring the Egocentrism in Your Thought and Life

One of the fundamental challenges most humans face in developing is that our life is dominated by a tendency to think and feel egocentrically. Our life is deeply situated in our own immediate desires, pains, thoughts, and feelings. We seek immediate gratification or long-term gratification based on an essentially selfish perspective. We are not typically or fundamentally concerned with whether our perceptions or meanings are accurate, though we may think we are. We are not significantly concerned with personal growth, self-insight, or ultimate integrity, though we think we are. We are not deeply motivated to discover our own weaknesses, prejudices, or self-deception. Rather, we seek to get what we want, avoid the disapproval of others, and justify ourselves in our own mind.

The tendency for humans to think in an egocentric fashion means that, typically, we have little or no real insight into the nature of our own thinking and emotions. For example, many of us unconsciously believe that it is possible to acquire knowledge without much thought, that it is possible to read without exerting intellectual energy, and that good writing is a talent one is born with—not a product of practice and hard work. As a result, we tend to evade responsibility for our own development. We do not seek to learn new ways of looking at things. Much of our thinking is stereotypical and simplistic, yet our egocentrism prevents us from recognizing this. We create the inner chains that enslave us.

These inner chains can have a negative effect on our relationships, success, growth, and happiness. It is not possible to get beyond the egocentrism that you and I inherit as human beings by ignoring our ego or pretending that we are decent people. We can restrain our egocentrism only by developing explicit habits that enable us to do so. We get beyond egocentric emotional responses not by denying that we ever respond in such a way but, rather, by owning these responses when they occur and restructuring the thinking that is feeding those emotions.

For example, each of us wants to see ourselves as an ethical person. Yet, through our egocentrism we often behave in ways that are blatantly unethical. Industries, for example, often engage in systematic practices that result in large amounts of pollutants in the environment. Yet if asked to explain their behavior, they will instead justify it through rationalization. They will make comments such as "We meet and exceed all of the federal regulations for pollution control, and in fact we do more than most companies to ensure that we don't pollute." Yet these companies are often hiding behind the concept of "federal regulations." They are not essentially concerned with the ethical or unethical nature of their behavior. Rather they are concerned simply with following the regulations. In cases such as these, industry leaders are unconcerned with whether they are actually polluting. They may not even know whether they are causing damage to the environment. And very often they do not want to know. Through their egocentrism they are able to avoid self-scrutiny. They are able to go on engaging in practices that will yield the highest monetary gain, without reference to the impact of the behavior on the environment.

We will return to the problem of dealing with egocentrism later. But you should begin to think about what egocentrism is and to monitor your thinking for evidence of it.

Test the Idea
Beginning to Understand Egocentrism

Think of the most self-centered person you know. This may be someone who is fundamentally selfish or arrogant. Describe the person's behavior in detail. Based on the person's behavior, how would you describe his/her thinking? What types of feelings does he/she seem to display? What is the person motivated to do? To what extent does the person use other people to get what he/she wants? To what extent does the person exhibit sincere concern for the thoughts and feelings of others?

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