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Ego, Eben Etzebeth and Being in the Middle of the Picture

Ok, I admit it. I don’t like it when I’m standing in the back of the picture, almost hidden behind the rest of the crowd. I much prefer being front center. It strokes my ego, hey.

I think that’s just human. None of us want to be marginalized. We all want to be seen. We all want the credit due to us; we all want our voices heard, and we all want to be on the inside not on the outside. Or at least, most of us do. I think.

I’m writing my new book around the popular South African slang word “EISH”. Eish denotes shock, surprise, dismay, and frustration. It’s a word that we’re pretty used to in our perennially underachieving country. It’s a word we use when Markus Jooste tanks our investments and gets away with it: Eish … see? White monopoly capital at its worst. It’s a word we use when corrupt officials steal billions from the state and don’t go to jail. Eish … when will there be consequences? When is their time to eat over?

And it’s a word we use when our politicians shamelessly (and literally as well as figuratively) inject themselves into a moment that matters to feed their ego and claim some of the credit.

Take a dubious bow, Cyril Ramaphosa. Much has been said about the way our President wrestled the cup from talismanic skipper Siya Kolisi in the post-match victory picture, so he could also hoist it for the cameras. Didn’t smell of class.

Juxtapose that with Siya, who, like Messi in last year’s football equivalent, was the most gracious of victors. In the moment of victory, he didn’t go for the massive team group hug. No, he embraced Cheslin Kolbe, who stood on the sidelines. The hero of four years ago, so dejected by his yellow card that stopped his participation, was immediately pulled into the celebration by his captain.

Or the master of the architect of them all, director of rugby and uber coach Rassie Erasmus. In that victory picture, you almost can’t spot him way in the back. He was happy to let the moment belong to his charges.

One other thing. I looked at those pictures (and there are a few of them), and I witnessed quite a feat. The hulking, towering, best-in-the-world Eben Etzebeth was also hard to spot. His intimidating features hidden behind the cup hoisted by Siya (or the press), he stood, as always, a step behind his captain.

And that, in itself, is something hey. Eben Etzebeth is often seen doing the talking in the changing rooms. Eben is a 100+ capped, former world player of the year, and bona fide legend of the game. And, in a different time, with different situational factors, would have been the guy in front. But Siya, deservedly, iconically, is that guy. And Eben, for the better part of a decade, has happily played the role of first lieutenant and brute enforcer.

How does he do it? How does Rassie do it? And how, for that matter, does Siya do it? Park their egos? Stand behind. Let someone else get all the glory. Let someone else do all the talking. Be content and happy and excited to care more about the result than your own recognition. Put the team and the organization before your own needs.

Freudian psychology defines the Ego as the rational part of the brain that mediates between our instinctive desires (our “ID”) and the demands of society (the “superego”). In his framework, it’s a generally positive concept that denotes conscious decision-making, thoughts, and perceptions.

But, as we know, in modern times, we mostly decide to be unconscious. We let narratives formed through biased information channels inform our thinking. We make decisions based on our pre-programmed desires or the demands of society (the other), and we choose not to listen, not to learn, not to evolve. We choose to let our lack of self-esteem and our desire to be seen, shape our character and our character will result in our destiny.

I think there is a common theme to be derived from those victorious men, and the women and families in their lives. A lack of ego as defined by modern society. A lack of the need to stand in front, to take the credit, to be DA MAN. Rather, their universal quest for a higher purpose is what drove them.

And ego, as Freud framed it? Conscious thought and decision-making?

Man, they have that in abundance. We sure are lucky.


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