Righteousness vs. Kindness: A dialogue of the ego and the heart


Last month, I wrote about the development of the ego and how it creates dichotomous, us vs. them thinking, categorizing everything we do as right, and consequently often making others wrong. This month, I share a moment of my own practice navigating the ego and kindness.

I was recently having breakfast at a downtown diner, and had ordered my meal with tea and water. The waitress brought my meal and tea, but didn’t bring the water. When she asked, “Can I get you anything else?”, I replied, “Yes, the water”.  

I saw her take a moment to parse my request, as most people would simply say, “Yes, some water.” However, apparently part of my automatic response wanted to point out that she had forgotten the water, and I was describing “the water” that I had previously requested. After a beat, she replied, “Of course, I’ll bring that right out”.  

I realized immediately after she left the table that my “the water” comment, was unkind. I didn’t need to point out her forgetfulness in requesting water. A simple, “Yes, some water” would have netted me the same results. It rarely is a kindness to point out how someone is doing their job ineffectually. The irony, at least in this case, is that I’m sure I couldn’t remember half of the orders she was managing.

One of the ego’s roles in maintaining its own righteousness is highlighting where others are not right. The more instances where the ego can identify other’s faults bolsters its sense of being right.  

The coda to this diner story reflects a failure on my intention to act with kindness, or to ask for forgiveness when I act unkindly. Having noticed that my words had an unkind flavor, I had the opportunity to apologize, recognizing that my comment may have made her feel bad about forgetting the water. However, I didn’t say anything, and instead, just left a big tip.  

I rationalized that she might not have even noticed the implication of my asking for “the water” instead of “some water”, and that she was busy and didn’t have time to process my apology. But, truth be told, the ego really resists owning up to having made a mistake, no matter how trivial. It also avoids appearing not normal, and some part of me thought the apology would seem weird. The tip, basically another instance of “just throw money at it”, made me feel okay skipping the apology, though the apology would have reflected a more complete expression of my practice.  

What was a victory, however, was noticing that the ego had cropped up and created words that didn’t resonate with kindness. I was aware that I had missed the mark of kindness, and had the opportunity to make amends.  

As you continue to explore working with the ego in the context of cultivating kindness, the Observer Self helps bring awareness to moments like this one at the diner. It gives you a chance to examine your habits more thoughtfully, and make decisions that lead you closer to your intentions.  

In the meantime, may you be kind to yourself and to others.

In the meantime, may you be kind to yourself and to others.

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