In Defense of Ego

Few things, if any, are entirely bad or good - and ego is no exception.

If you’re in any environment where you’re giving tests or exams and being graded on them – school, college, or even training in your job – if you look around, you’ll probably find some people cheating on them.

And if you’re in a hyper-competitive society, like most of the environments I’ve been in, those cheating will probably be the majority. Those who don’t cheat (or more precisely, help others cheat) will stand out as weird anomalies, a source of interest for the rest.

I used to cheat as well before, even though I don’t think I really needed to. Almost everyone around me was doing it, and I’d never really thought it through. What harm was it really doing? Why did it even matter? I still see way too many people who’ve never thought about such things.


First, to clarify some terms. This is just how I’m using them, not a sacrosanct definition.

  • Diffidence: Having a low opinion of yourself
  • Confidence: A good opinion of yourself, grounded in real achievements.
  • Ego: A very high opinion of yourself – not necessarily grounded on anything, and it could be private or public.
  • Humility: To have a good opinion of yourself privately, and not wear it on your sleeve for public display.
  • Arrogance: To publicly proclaim your greatness. It’s relative to other people.

Diffidence isn’t always a great thing, though it’s useful if you want to stay comfortable and avoid risks. There’s nothing wrong with playing safe, and diffidence gives you the prudence to avoid playing games you might lose.

What about humility? To borrow from a French thinker:

The refusal of praise is only the wish to be praised twice.

Maxims of La Rochefoucauld

The modesty which pretends to refuse praise is but in truth a desire to be praised more highly.

Maxims of La Rochefoucauld

Humility might be nice, though I think there are few things more annoying than humility for humility’s sake. Wearing a mask of humility simply to “be humble” because it’s good – or worse, to be thought humble.

Genuine humility is rare. It’s often a discomfort with praise. There could be many reasons. Some people genuinely don’t think they did anything that outstanding, although people tell them otherwise. Humility is a natural reaction in this case, because praise feels like fraud, since you don’t really deserve it.

Or it could simply be irrelevant. There are better and more interesting things to talk about. Listening to your praise is boring, it’s neither new nor exciting. It’s much better to change the subject, or if the speaker can’t do that, to change the speaker and hang out with someone else.

Which leaves us with ego and arrogance.

Both could be based on real achievements – say a mountaineer who’s summitted Everest and is full of himself. Or they could be based on thin air – someone who’s never climbed any peak in his life but thinks he’s a pro.

Arrogance is usually public. It implies a relative superiority over others. You might not think of yourself as special, but your opinion of others is so low that compared to them you’re great. Here, arrogance stems from looking down on others.

Or you might think of yourself as great, while viewing others as ordinary. You don’t look down on anyone, but you’ve put yourself on a pedestal.

Usually it works both ways – arrogant people look down on others and think very highly of themselves. Either way, your relative superiority over others is established if you’re arrogant.


Ego differs from arrogance.

Ego could be public or private. Some people think very highly of themselves, but won’t show it openly. Others do. Arrogance is typically shown publicly, even if it exists privately as well.

Ego isn’t really relative to other people. It’s having a high opinion of yourself without comparing it to your opinion of others. You’re concerned more about yourself than wondering what others are like.

And ego also differs from confidence.

Confidence usually derives from real achievements – you might be confident of winning a race because you’ve won many races before. Ego could be based on real achievements (same as confidence) or it could be based on nothing – you might just think you’re a natural sprinter.

I’d say ego is also quantitatively greater than confidence. Ego is what makes you think of yourself as better than what you’ve done in the past. Someone who’s won a national level racing competition might be confident of winning another race at the same level. But it might take some amount of ego to really believe that you could win an international competition too.

And there’s nothing wrong with such ego. It takes something special like ego for a human to think of sending a rocket from our planet to the distant stars. Any great feat usually requires some egotistical thinking to believe that you can succeed against great odds of failure.

Remember that while diffidence helps you play safe, ego puts you at risk of losing. So depending on what you’re like, ego can be a help or a hindrance.

But ego can help in other ways too, which is what this post began with.


I’ve often had people commend my “ethics” when they learn that I don’t cheat in tests.

They don’t seem to be able to understand.

It was never about ethics. It was about ego.

I just don’t care enough about exams or grades to make it worth cheating.

It’s insulting then, to think that I could give up my honesty for something so worthless.

That something for which I have no respect could have so much power over me to compel me to behave a certain way is a thought I could never bear.

It applies to many other things.

Take dowry. It’s legally wrong because it’s against the law. It’s ethically wrong because it reduces a woman to a cash cow, seeing her as not a human but a source of money.

But even if you ignored all of this, I can’t imagine how any self-respecting man could take dowry.

It’s nothing but selling himself, putting a price on himself – a message that “I’m willing to sell my companionship for this price”. It takes a pretty low opinion of yourself to do that.


Ego can make easy things boring. If anyone can do it, then what am I needed for? And if everyone does it, it’s not challenging. It’s probably not anything great either.

It’s not “hard” to “rag” juniors or be rude to subordinates or those serving us, like waiters and domestic helps. Many do that knowing that it’s easy and safe and they’ll never be answered back. Or sucking up to bosses and telling them what they want to hear. Again, easy and common.

Not doing that is harder and therefore more fun.


The same logic applies to drinking, smoking, or consuming junk / sugar, or “vices” that degrade you physically or mentally, affecting your performance. Again, abstaining from them is usually seen as a self-inflicted punishment, because many people find it very hard to wrap their heads around the idea that someone can prefer it that way.

It was never about discipline or sacrifice, but about ego.

If you have a high opinion of yourself, and presumably high expectations from yourself, you’d probably value performance – which means you’d want to function at a high level physically and mentally, as high as you can get.

Most of these things degrade performance. A single meal of junk food is enough to feel significantly worse for some time. An analogy I like to use is imagining yourself as a car, needing to be fueled. Would you put adulterated fuel in a Ferrari?

If you have enough ego to imagine yourself as a Ferrari, and if you care about performance, you wouldn’t crave any of them. You wouldn’t crave them because they have a negative value for you – the benefit, if any, is nothing compared to the cost.

“Abstaining” implies there’s some craving you’re controlling. Ego simply removes that craving and replaces it with something that you value more.

And it’s also linked to the previous idea, that easy things are generally boring. Anyone can drink or smoke or watch TV all day, and many do – it’s easy. And therefore it’s probably boring.

Summing Up

To conclude – it doesn’t mean that cultivating ego is something everyone should work on.

It’s just that there’s seldom anything that’s completely good or bad, even ego and humility.

Depending on your abilities and needs, you can find out what has a net benefit for you as an individual, rather than accepting other’s prescriptions blindly.

And you can use even “vices” like ego to your advantage if you think about them.



Thank u sir!!.if possible pls share some more full length test copies..


yes sir it will be very helpful..!!


By comparing itself to Ferrari ,you have tried to explain with an example that if we consider ourselves valuable then we will try to adulterate ourselves .


Only if we can report dowry takers because I guess 95% police already did or doing it how can 20 year old fight against parents and relatives. I wanted to but I just couldn’t. pratyush sir do you even read these comments?


How can someone use their ego for his/her benefit? I would like to put my example- I know I’m capable to look like the next Achilles but I choose to eat junk food every 4th or 5th day which affects my progress and i felt guilty after that. So maybe it means I don’t have enough ego to fulfil that dream. So how can I fuel up my ego to do things which can mark a dent in this world?


How much time did u take to write this, sometimes people who are working with humility aren’t always looking for double praises they may be genuinely concentrated on their goal and it doesn’t matter to them if you praise him once or twice all that matters to him is to achieve his goal and still be humble, like this example where Dr APJ Kalam felt after the launch of PSLV he and his team did it only to see the joy in the face of the person bringing him the morning coffee or they did not even knew that they would see such an expression, but they did .Here Humility was goal oriented and it was his guiding principle and his strength. I don’t say that there are not people who really are not yearning for double praises under the garb of Humility, that kind of people are there but in actuality it’s the Ego but not the humility, it’s how one defines it but never are these two the same, each have a different meaning and are unique and each of these qualities can be used to ones advantage or disadvantage it all depends on how we tame them, good luck.


Thankyou! I always considered ego as not a bad thing.Often the lines got blurred between arrogance and ego while putting across this thing to others.
More so I came out as arrogant to talk highly of ego.
Its nice to see how you have brought out the subtle differences among Ego,Arrogance, Confidence,over confidence….often used interchangeably by many.



Sweta Tripathi

The only way to get out from the clutches of ego and false humility is the realisation that we r mortal being such high self attachment wont last for long so we shld keep doing our work bt its easiest said than done ,bt yes when u have self contemplative mind to analyse ur action and reaction then slowly you ll start depleting your doshas.

The kid

I feel the article is written in the praise of my ego.


Hey Pratyush,
I always wondered why would you choose IAS over IFS until I saw one of your mock interview recently. Was that the only reason? What if that was not the case?


American author Rick Warren defines

Humility as not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

But Ayn Rand the great objectivist defines the ideal man to think only and wholly in self interest, which evidently means thinking about oneself, to take no one but only oneself in consideration to choose.

How would one find the basic attribute of humility , considering these two equally appealing school of thoughts?


I would lean closer to Ayn Rand. If you don’t think of yourself, no one will. It doesn’t mean thinking overly highly of yourself or looking down on anyone else though. And it doesn’t mean not thinking of others.


I get your point.
But what I’m looking for is a definition for humility, which enumerates the attributes of humility so that one can recognize in real-life participation – whether one is adhering to those, or breaching it?
Say, sort of specific indicators, which separates toxic and healthy humility.


At the moment only these come to mind.
Whether I’m doing or saying something simply to make an impression for someone else, rather than because I want to.
In other words, whether I’m behaving naturally as I do, or if my behaviour is modified to create a good impression.
Examples abound. From flaunting your degrees/job to putting on a façade in front of someone you like.

Another distinction – between doing things and being someone.
Focusing on being someone – “I am an author”.
Or focusing on doing things – “I write”.
When you’re obsessed about the tag (author) instead of what really defines that tag, which is the act (writing), I think you leave humility behind.


Self-respect is just a basic amount of dignity you accord to every human, including yourself.