x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Slightly famous or anonymous, everyone's ego is fragile

It is common practice here to cut others off on the road or jump lines or treat customer service representatives badly, just because we all know that being nice will get you nowhere.

We all secretly believe that we are more important than everybody else. Regardless of our surroundings, if our phone rings we pick it up. If we feel like smoking we light one up. And if what we have to say is more important, most of us will talk over anyone.

The need to one-up those around us has become inevitable (and some believe it's even somewhat glamorous.) Our personal sense of self importance, and how much we project it, is a reflection of how big our egos are. It is my ego, coupled with my attitude, that manipulates the behaviour of others around me.

Sir Isaac Newton decreed that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Which, in my case, means that if I behave badly somebody else will clean up the mess and further prove my standing in the status order.

When I meet new people in a professional capacity, I have to remember to forget some manners. I find this depressingly sad because in order for me to get noticed and get ahead, I need to make others take note of my importance by looking down on others.

Examples include interrupting, doodling, texting or any other forms of showing that I am not interested in what they have to say.

In a multicultural society like the one in the UAE, this type of (mis-) behaviour is typically expected and does not just occur in work places. It's common practice here to cut others off on the road or jump lines or treat customer service representatives badly, just because we all know that being nice will get you nowhere.

I cannot remember the last time I was reprimanded for acting this way. Instead, being rude gets mistaken for assertiveness, and I get rewarded and commended on it.

But no matter how big my ego is, there is a bigger ego out there waiting to crush mine.

One evening, in a strange turn of events, I ended up having dinner with Fifa's top officials. My dinner companions were lively and talkative, save for a bored looking Frenchman. He introduced himself as Fifa's official music composer. The sniggers and sideways glances around the table told me that he was anything but that. Who was I to second guess?

My jaded dinner companion was pretty quiet during dinner, except when he blatantly spoke of his wonderful career composing beautiful music for Fifa.

As I was about to take my leave after dinner, he insisted that I give him my contact details so that he could send me his latest compositions.

And for the umpteenth time that evening, he gave me a I-can't-believe-you-fell-for-the-I-am-Fifa's-music-composer look. As I was handing him my business card, he finally put an end to the charade and challenged me. "You really don't recognise me?"

I know nothing about football. I'm a girl. This is the best and only excuse I can own up to. I watch it once every four years and that's only because I don't want to feel left out at a time when everybody is united by one global event.

"No. But you do remind me of someone," I replied.

"Aha! Finally you know. Who do I look like?" he asked.

My answer to him was the grumpy French actor Gérard Depardieu. Let's just say that he did not take the reference very well and stormed off. I heard one of my dinner companions say "the joke is on him" but nobody was laughing.

Later that I night I found out that the person I had "offended" was a legendary football player with a list of accomplishments longer than my Twitter timeline.

His current post as head of a major branch of world football - for the sake of this article, he will go unnamed - was even more impressive.

Even though I had unintentionally triumphed in my sparring showdown, the hollow feeling that washed over me left me painfully aware how delicate "ego" can be.

I offended a top football personality by not knowing him. But his response to my offence left me feeling guilty.

The lesson: our egos can help get us places in life, pushing us forward, but can also betray us if we're left with an elevated level of self-importance. When a fragile ego is bruised, as in the case of our football official, it's easy to be hurt.

 

Maryam Amiri is an Emirati social commentator

On Twitter: @amiri_decree