Arguably, the human heart and mind acts as a checks and balances system to keep the other in check. The human ego is a force to be reckoned when it is not carefully monitored. The ego and what I call the heart of a person are in constant battle with one another. We need both to survive as they help keep us alive and safe from outside threats.
The ego is the animalistic part of our brain that is hyper vigilant, aware, and alert at all times. It’s the part of the brain that kept humans safe during prehistoric times when we lived as hunters and gatherers from outside threats that were a danger to our survival. It’s also the genesis of irrational thought and bias, which can trick our brain into false or unfounded threats of people in the modern world (more on that later). Evolutionary psychology has documented the characteristics and purpose of the ego for centuries. As we move further into a technologically advanced society this topic will require reexamination in how ego interacts with human emotion to better understand how people navigate their understanding of self and the world around them.
“When you’re careless with other people, you bring ruin upon yourself” -Jenny Lind from The Greatest Showman
As social beings, human emotions are equally as important to our survival. We need human interaction and connection to survive in the modern world. Developing authentic connections creates a sense of belonging which leads to inclusive interactions that place individuals (their background and holistic identity) at the center in appreciative and empowering ways. These facilitative conditions are needed in order to create environments that foster absolute states of well-being for everyone in an organization. Understanding and acting on human emotions can feel overwhelming for individuals who may not be strong in that area.
Chances are you are either more intuitive (heart-centered) or rational (ego-centered) by design and that is ok. One aspect of our being is not inherently more valuable than the other. Every single body needs both heart and ego in order to survive. The issue that arises is when external forces (humans, businesses, universities, etc.) perceive you from their lens and do not take the time to understand your background and how you interact with the world. Ego is not a dirty concept in and of itself. But when people use it for selfish gain…and will do or say anything to that end…that is when the heart and ego can be out of balance and create toxic environments.
Navigating workplace or office politics in education (or any profession) boils down to how individuals (students, faculty, and staff) understand their individual ego/heart continuum and how those components interact and manifest in the presence of other people. Without intentional focus on recognizing our individual biases, assumptions, and perceptions of diverse human beings and how they express themselves in the workplace…any performative assessment of workplace productivity will fall short. Every time. This is a significant contributor that perpetuates toxic environments because it implicitly states there there is only one approach to a task that leads to X result…which is a narrow view of what student success can look like (to include the staff efforts that went into student success initiatives). We evaluate work performance and productivity on that implicit assumption of what success will look like from our own perspective. We do not provide a space to find common ground in those areas in the planning process to inform our execution and evaluation. In doing so we project our own biases and assumptions and then accredit failure to the student and staff who works closely with them.
This creates the breading ground where everyone’s ego goes into overdrive and irrational thought ‘loses its mind’ (pun intended) and can be difficult to get out ahead of for intervention purposes.
We wonder why as educators in the profession our goals fall short or our programs are unsuccessful. Formal and informal performative measures of assessment of faculty and staff has to be grounded in understanding that the students we work with have very different needs and related accommodations in order to reach success. Our idea of student success (faculty/staff/administration) may be completely different than how the students we serve measure their success, or how they communicate their needs. Developing personal relationships with students to determine their true needs will transform toxicity among professional staff by redirecting how we understand and meet the needs of students….and why we are working together in the first place. When staff and faculty needs go unmet, whether intentional or not, it derails and demoralizes us as professionals and we lose sight of why we are in this profession: for students. We point fingers, justify successes and failures, or become defensive in our responce to criticism…while the needs of students goes unaddressed. I am guilty of this too and catch myself perpetuating toxic behavior.
“They don’t understand you, but they will” -P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman