the lost man chronicles
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Tuesday, March 7, 2006

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The Glare of the Ego

I gritted my teeth as three tons of rubber, fiberglass and steel lurched toward me while I was crossing the street a few blocks from home.

With mind-boggling speed I assessed the situation—calculating probability, velocity, distance and the psychic tension between my glare and the glare of the sun in my adversary’s eyes. In less than the heartbeat that I stilled by brazenly pulling my emotions from fear into belligerent arousal, an angry pique ready to forfeit my life for some ground founded on tenuous principle, I prejudged the scruffy young man behind the wheel of the dilapidated Toyota that threatened me—uncouth, unshaven, obviously uncaring, assuredly a scourge to society.

I had mixed feelings then, knowing that I was at risk by plying my stern resolve and earnest sensibilities against the will and wile of my nemesis, this reprobate, depraved bane, indifferent miscreant.

I dared step forward anyway, knowing that I had the “right of way,” growing more obstinate with each sign that I was right about my rival—for I was better somehow; ardent superciliousness and drummed-up prejudice fortifying my ugly determination.

It was then that I realized that I was actually “angry.”

I was in the middle of the road and had inanely succeeded in getting my foe to press his foot flat to the floor, bringing his tank to a complete halt, preventing his roll over me and getting him to come to a full STOP.

As I took my first step into safety I pondered the rile of my sentiments—why the anger?

Usually, I find anger to be a frivolous emotion, an inability to control the process and progress of one’s thoughts. Alas, I hadn’t taken hold of them at this moment, and thus I was at a loss. I laughed at my self as a means of recovery, and in an attempt to regain my composure I evaluated what had occurred a second ago—futile ego vs. fatal vehicle; bigotry, over-simplification, lazy thinking, hubris.

But why?

Fear, I immediately concluded, nothing but fear.

I became angry and defensive, thus building up my ego by belittling a complete stranger, substituting my sense of danger with an insane match of stubborn will against a machine that could have readily mowed me over.

Thus, I realized, as my foot moved from asphalt to pavement, that anger has a purpose and that fear is the trigger that pulls the punch. Although it has long been tenured within academic circles, I understood and felt, once and for all, for myself, at this very moment, how fear is a primal instinct that prompts us to flee or fight for our very survival.

But the beautiful thing was that I also immediately realized how the process evolves from the primal release of epinephrine, acetylcholine, and to a lesser extent norepinephrine, via the sympathetic nervous system, into a more convoluted machination of nonsense concentrated in the prefontal cortex, the abysmal home of the ego.

There is an old saw in marketing that proposes that people are people, and that we might take advantage of them by realizing that they are motivated and compelled into action for one of two basic reasons: Fear and Greed.

Hence, now a few steps awry from peril, I was compelled to subsequently contemplate fear’s counterpart in this ancient, all-consuming formula.

Why Greed?

Is it true that human nature is inherently greedy, rather than altruistic? Are men destined to be slaves to the game of survival, and have women ultimately maintained their survival by being the counter-balancing nurturing, cooperative, loving force?

I proposed, if only for dialectic purposes with myself, that it is not necessarily greed that prompts us to focus on ourselves and to act accordingly, but rather, in our modern times, where many of us live beyond our means—it is joy, glee, happiness that are the true keys, buttons, and switches that move us to grab, hold, hunt and gather—ultimately, having us hoard beyond our basic needs necessary for survival.

And it is the combination of fear and joy that lead to Greed, the fear of not having or running out of that which makes us happy. The same might be said of Jealousy—the fear of losing someone you love, someone who makes you happy; Envy—the fear that someone else is experiencing joy that you are not or have not.

And of course, Anger, the fear that someone or something is liable to take your joy (or life) away.

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