The faith chronicles

Monday, February 18, 2013


Lenten retreat reflection: Day 7 - Routing egocentrism

pp. 25-28

Haha! Never thought a retreat reflection like this would elicit a hearty laugh from me. But encountering egocentrism, I just had to laugh because, if I must have a Ph.D. other than the one on Internet Stalking, this would be my other specialty.

Seriously now, I have been guilty of this particular defect to the point that it permeated every aspect of my being. I may sound melodramatic here, but I that's how dark my past was. Thank goodness I have improved a lot that I can now afford to write this reflection by using the past tense.

Since I write a lot, it's only natural that I focus on the egocentricism that is evident in my writing, especially my writing of old. I don't know how I evolved into being a 'writer' or hallucinating that I can write at all. It wasn't my original dream. Forced to dream my dream job as a child, I answered "doctor." I thought the medical field would be it for me, that's why I took up B.S. Biology. But life circumstances intervened. I had to find work; advanced study was not an option. And among the odd jobs that were available to me, it was in this field that I found an opportunity. I couldn't believe it myself when I got accepted in Innodata as an abstractor, for I hardly wrote anything that impressed even me back in college. Although I was a staffer in the high school organ, kept a silly diary with the dullest entries, and had a history of winning essay writing contests in school, I never entertained the thought that someday I would be writing, not just as a hobby but as a profession.

When that job at Innodata convinced me that I could write, at least technically, the idea probably went into my head. But it would take me years to develop a taste for writing on my own, just to humor myself. And still more years to get envious enough at young people who got published in the glossy magazines and the paper and give writing-for-pay a try.

If I may sound self-deprecating, I have a good reason: Until now, I commit a lot of grammatical slips and other errors while writing. The writing process always humbles me this way, even as it satisfies my ego. But when I actually enjoyed writing professionally (for publication), I got unstoppable. Little did I know how writing could easily be an extension of my ego, which was considerably big, that is to say frail, so I didn't know that I wrote and wrote with this unconscious act of ego-tripping.

It took certain people to make me realize, unwittingly, how my writing was infected/afflicted with, in the vulgar term of the world, dickieness. I remember my officemate Mimi who once told me, "I like the columnist Mike Tan's writing, because I can follow him without running to the dictionary." With that remark, she opened my eyes, although unwillingly, to the fact that I loved to use big words to impress. Although I can rationalize that I simply love words, and I love a big word when that word happens to be the most appropriate in a given cluster/constellation of words, the bottom line is: Was I guilty of trying to impress? Was I writing to entertain, or please others so they would like me?

I couldn't answer that with a straight face at the time. I surely would have hemmed and hawed with rationalization till kingdom come. I could explain away by saying, "Actually I was just trying to imitate O. Henry." But I would then have to explain why I wanted to sound like O. Henry when I wasn't O. Henry.

Another evidence came my way through a talk in community. I still remember how Louie C. lectured about humility and the various ways we violate it, as when we quote certain books we haven't actually pored over. When I heard him use that example, I was convicted then and there, for I certainly had essays that quoted authors whose books I actually had never read; I cherry-picked those quotes by big-name authors from somewhere else to impress big time.

By the time a fellow writer-friend demanded to know why I was fond of using foreign words and phrases, especially Latin (and especially when inappropriate, he might have added), I was a bit more honest: Because I wanted to give my words the gravitas they lacked. (Or maybe the more truthful answer was something too shameful to admit: Maybe I fancied being thought of as someone erudite and learned, seated on an academic high horse, so as to be inaccessible to the common, ordinary folk.)

From these little gems of experiences, which were painful to countenance at the time, I have developed a parallel habit of checking on my own self, particularly my fallen self, my dark shadow (Jung?), my sinister side, in my writings. Am I trying to impress again with this information, this side discussion, this little quotation? Why? Why should I?

Do I lie or take necessary information to keep up appearances? To show off? Did I properly cite borrowed ideas or pass off anything as my own? What for?

If I take another look at my topics, will these be all about me? Does everything redound to...myself? Of course, my blog is meant to be a diary, so it's expected to be all about I, me, and myself, but will it at least interest the reader? Does it contain anything helpful that the reader can take away from?

(If the answers to the questions are not very affirming, the whys need to be explained separately in a latter discourse.)

Little by little, I learned to tone down my ego-tripping, saw through how childish and cheap, nasty and dark all that subtle subterfuge can be, and developed a writing style that I hope would be as ego-free as possible. This has become so important to me, because I think the reader can sense by instinct when a writer is ego-tripping. As a writer, I can't afford shortchanging or deceiving the reader. People aren't born dumb; they can smell a dead rat  if one is lying around the corner. They can sense masturbatory writing from afar anytime.

Volunteering to double-check myself for the sin of egocentrism is liberating. It saves me the embarrassment of other people pointing it out for me in so charitable a manner as to avoid hurting my delicate sensibilities.

One unexpected fruit of all this is that I have a heightened sensitivity for spotting a fellow egotist.

Awww.... ikaw naman. I don't think it's wrong naman to love Latin even if you don't really understand it or are able to speak it or write it fluently. It's such a beautiful language! I wish we could speak Latin all the time! :D As it is I'm limited to enjoying trying to translate it when I come across it sa Missal or paminsan-minsan when going in depth into Scripture. Parang ang sarap namnamin n'ung words lalo na when you figure out things like Salvator=Savior, stimulus=sting, parvulos=children, etc.

As for quoting naman authors whom you haven't really read, I think you're being too hard on yourself naman. Sometimes we fall in love with authors pakonti-konti di ba. I haven't read a whole Chesterton book yet, but I have quite a collection of his quotes, kasi talagang Apostle of Common Sense s'ya! Doesn't negate in any way (I think) your admiration of a writer just because you only know a few of his lines!

Cheer up :)
Well, I was only speaking for myself. I grew up terribly insecure, so I was really prone to the many ways of embellishing the ego. But, you're right, not all of it was bad, as you have pointed out. It's just that the good intention always came mixed with the bad, and that's what I don't like about myself.
Forgot to add: I'm not implying everyone who does the above are being egotistical, but in my case, I was. And I still do resort to those things, but with the awareness, I know I use those strategies for a purpose other than compensating for a hungry ego.
Deep inside I also know I was striving for art, beauty, excellence.
Let me clarify further that I was in fact cheerful writing this down, joyful at the fact that I realized these things in me at all.
Yes, awareness is always a good thing. I think, though, particularly for us who blog, or who do anything that "exposes" us, so to speak, to the world, there will always be that push-pull of egocentricity vs. theocentricity. I see and recognize it also in myself. It's easy to lose balance especially during those times when you are praised or thanked for your work. For me as a mom it's doubly hard when my kids do things that make me especially proud, I have to constantly remind them, and myself, that everything is God's grace. :) Here's mine
ahaha, te-test ko pala 'yung "google identity" ko :D ngayon ko lang napansin na puede pala.
there, egocentricity at its finest :D
There's such a test? Will try! LOL
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