From the life of the operatic composer Giuseppe Verdi comes the story of one night when he performed a piano recital at La Scala in Milan, Italy. After his final piece, the appreciative audience demanded an encore. Verdi, hungry for applause, chose a loud and frilly composition he knew would thrill the audience, even though it was, artistically speaking, inferior music.
When he finished, the crowd stood again, roaring its approval. Verdi basked in the extended applause – until he saw his lifelong mentor in the balcony who knew exactly what Verdi had done. His mentor neither stood with the crowd nor applauded. On his face was a pained expression of disappointment. Verdi could almost hear his mentor saying, “Verdi, Verdi, how could you do that?”
We could call this the “Verdi Virus” – the desire to control, the need to be approved. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described it this way: “Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog named Ego.” The ego swells when it is showered with praise. It craves power and success. And it is never satisfied with how much of these things it gets.
This problem is all too common, even in the so-called modern, sophisticated business and professional world. Men and women striving for attention, craving adulation, maneuvering for control to enforce the power of their wills. Almost every day we read or hear about leaders succumbing to the temptations of hungry egos.
Such attitudes, of course, are hardly new. Egocentricity is as old as the Bible. Here are just a few of the examples it presents:
Love for preeminence. In 3 John 9-11 it describes Diotrephes, “who loves to be first,” or as it says in another translation, he was “ambitious for the place of first distinction.” Ambition for prestige and control often leads to adoration, deserved or not, and no small amount of intimidating influence.
Insistence on doing things our way. In the Old Testament, Numbers 22-24, we read about Balaam, who was the only Gentile prophet of the true God identified in the Bible. He obeyed God to a degree, but his heart went with the leadership of Balak, who opposed the Israelites. Balaam desired to obey God, but ultimately yielded to the temptation of gold. He had a head full of spiritual light, but a heart that was dark. Often the Lord permits us to do things we insist on doing, even if they are wrong. We want to do them. We push to do them. We even pray to do them. “Lord, why can I not have it?”
Defiance against truth and wisdom. In 2 Chronicles 10-12 we find the story of Rehoboam, the insolent son of King Solomon. Rehoboam presumed his family legacy and power he inherited would cause the people to yield to his whims. However, having neither political wisdom nor an accurate understanding of his father’s trust in God, Rehoboam died proud and foolish at the age of 58. “And he did evil, because he never did decide really to please the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14).
How can we overcome pitfalls of pride and ego? Consider 1 Peter 5:5-6: “…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
Robert D. Foster is the founder of Lost Valley Ranch near Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A. A businessman and author of weekly business-related meditations for more than 50 years, he now resides in California.
1. Can you think of a time when you – or someone you know – went to unusual measures to receive the attention and approval of others? Describe what that situation was like.
2. What are some of the negative effects of people seeking to feed their egos in the business and professional world?
3. Is seeking to satisfy the demands of one’s ego always a bad thing to do? Explain your answer.
4. The antidote to the temptations of pride and ego, according to 1 Peter 5:5-6, is humility and a willingness to submit to God. How easy (or difficult) is that to do, in your experience?
NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to read more about this subject, consider the following passages:
Proverbs 11:2, 15:33, 16:5, 16:18-19, 18:12, 21:24, 22:4; Philippians 2:3-4; James 4:10