Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

All the egos are in one basket

Where I left things yesterday, I had concluded that ambitions are important in giving life purpose, but felt a warning was needed: that achieving one’s ambitions is dangerous, as that may leave one without purpose.

Today I REALLY want to discuss the Apostle Paul as an example of someone with an ambition, but I reckon I have to leave that to another day, as I think I first need to discuss types of ambitions (and I also want to post about contentment…) In the meantime, to appease myself, I’ll begin that discussion with a wee quote from Paul:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

This raises another factor in the “Ambition: Nice or Horrible?” debate. The motives behind the ambition are important. There is a distinction between selfish ambitions and ambitions to better the lives of others. There is egoism and there is egalitarianism.

Selfish ambition is harder to spot than you might think. There might be someone chasing top jobs, claiming bonuses, gathering wealth and appearing to be engaged in fulfilling selfish ambitions. But maybe they chase the top job in order to improve the running of the organization, maybe they claim bonuses to give to charity, maybe they gather wealth to employ people with… Maybe they are bored in their current position; maybe they feel guilt that they have the skills that are needed further up; maybe experience has built up against their will and they feel compelled to step up and take charge as there is no one else who can do it…

It is most likely that egoism plays a part in most ambitions. We want to do things because we want to do things. We do them to satisfy ourselves, at least to some degree. (However, I think that it is a very foolish person who would live entirely to satisfy themselves. But most of us figure this out, and egoism does a wee trick on us and in order to be egotistical, we become more egalitarian …)

Paul suggests that the people he is writing to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”. It’s not ambition per se that is ruled out, only selfish ambition. Humility is required.

False humility can be annoying, when people moan that they are rubbish at things when they are perfectly capable. Genuine humility is always good – when people are just genuinely aware of their strengths and weaknesses and function as best they can, playing to their strengths and conceding that there are weaknesses. And they don’t think that being better at something makes them better in general. As Paul suggests to his readers, they should “value others above yourselves”.

Easily said, but challenging in practice. Instead of lobbying for things to go your way in particular, perhaps it is better to let everyone have their say. Other people aren’t there to give you a boost to your rightful place, but you are there to help them. Ideally, this works both ways of course, that people should value each other and this results in everyone being valued.

Not that I know much about Nelson Mandela, but as far as I understand it, he didn’t just work for his own supporters. He worked for everyone, even those who had been against him. Similarly, Malala Yousafzai offers education for the children of those who would shoot her. Their ambitions – to end apartheid and to have education for all – benefit a wide range of people – not just them and their immediate circle. These ambitions are above and beyond the person who championed them: they are egalitarian ambitions rather than egotistical.

In order to avoid “looking to your own interests”  but managing to look “to the interests of the others.” – what do we do?

It is as if one has to take oneself out of the equation for a moment, decide what a good ambition would be, put oneself back in the equation, and then start planning. If you happen to be the best person to reach the goal, then you should. Or, if you happen to be the only person willing to give it a go, you should.


I still want to look at ambition in sport, contentment and the Apostle Paul. Three more posts and then I’ll try and change the subject 😉


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4 thoughts on “All the egos are in one basket

  1. You definitely give us a good piece to think about 🙂

    • Thanks. The next part I hope to think through is whether ambitions are needed when we have contentment. I think that both of us are content with our lot in life, but we still have ambitions and plans. I wonder if contentment is more important than ambition.
      *tries not to launch into the full idea*

  2. I’m enjoying the subject. Interesting.

    • Thanks TB – Hopefully I will get to the end of it all later today. I was going to finish with the Apostle Paul, but Tennessee Williams has come in with some unexpected insights too…

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