"The Ego and the I" (III)
by. Abp. Fulton Sheen
The difference between the person in whom the ego, or selfishness, dominates and the person in whom the I, or personality, dominates spells the difference between false gaiety and true happiness, between neurotic and normal living.
The ego – the mask he will show the world – is the central interest of his life; all desires, thoughts, and affections, are valued in respect to this. The I, or the real self, which bears the Divine Image, is very weak in him and influences only a small area of the circumference of his life.
In a normal person, the situation is reversed. The personality (which is rooted in God) has taken over the center of life, while the ego of selfishness is so superficial as to be barely noticeable. But this does not mean that the individual personality has been lost; indeed, it is stronger and much more individual than in the case of an ego-dominated man. The I, the true personality, is what the philosophers call “subsistent” – that is, it is able to return to its own essence, to coincide with itself, to see itself as it really is, and to know itself by reflection. Each human personality is so inviolable that it stands out, against all other personalities, as unique, incommunicable, and absolutely distinct. Because of his personality, or I, even man is a precious mystery. He cannot be weighed by public opinion; he cannot be measured by his conditionings; he belongs to no one but himself, and no creature in all the world can penetrate his mystery except the God Who made him. The dignity of every I is beyond our reckoning.
But the ego is made to the image and likeness of the spirit of the world in which it lives, as the I is made to the image and likeness of the eternal God. The ego is a conformist; it is “adjusted” to its times; but the Sacred Scriptures warn: Be not conformed to the world (Rom. 12.2). The I has attained inner freedom, through transcendence of the worldly. The ego is always self-centered; the personality, because it is essentially a mystery, is willing to soar beyond the self if it can return to its source. The ego wants the world to serve it; the wants to serve [God and others for God’s sake]. Egocentricity always leads to self-deception; for by its very nature the ego seeks to smother the I with its eagerness for effort. The ego flies from truth, because it knows that truth would be its undoing. The I, or personality, seeks truth, for it knows truth would be its flowering and perfection. Liars are always persons whose egos are fiercely prized.