The pettiness of the ego became abundantly clear to me this week — by way of karaoke. I was at a goodbye party for my beloved boss, which featured copious amounts of farewell tequila. And it was probably a little sadness mixed with a ton of alcohol that inspired the following question early in the evening:
“Does it offend black people when a white person sings a rap song wrong during karaoke?” my white co-worker asked. “Like, does it make you want to just grab the mic and fix it? Or am I just drunk and imagining that?“
She was referring to our colleague who had just started singing The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic song, Juicy. Only one minute into the rap and our friend was already two lines behind the beat and skipping through phrases to catch up. She was definitely starting to butcher the song.
To Fix or Not to Fix
Her question had merit. After all, the minute the n-word appears on a karaoke screen, does the room not hold its breath? However, as I reached for an answer, I found a larger question about humanity taking it’s place: why should we care if someone messes up a song at all? In the world of karaoke, where there was no real consequence or reward, and people just sing whatever makes their hearts happy, does it make sense for the ego to be so proactive?
As the evening progressed, several versions of this question played out — attitude was thrown, some voices became silent and some forgot completely who the party was even for. Twice, I had someone try to sing over me and one person even stole the mic out of my hand. Within hours, our karaoke party had turned into a modern day Roman Colosseum — and we were the vocal gladiators.
The Ego Gets Confused
My man crush, Neil deGrasse Tyson, puts his spin on the ego like this:
If your ego starts out, ‘I am important, I am big, I am special,’ you’re in for some disappointments when you look around at what we’ve discovered about the universe. No, you’re not big. No, you’re not. You’re small in time and in space. And you have this frail vessel called the human body that’s limited on Earth.
The ego is all about the preservation of self, which is fine if it minds the larger truths of our existence. This is not to say we should not try our best to shine as bright as we can. It’s more about letting others shine as bright as they can along side you. That is the true magic of life.
Trading Ego for Unity
At one point in the evening, the question arose again, but this time it was verbatim. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a mic rising to pursed lips that were annoyed with my performance on the second verse of Jay-Z’s Big Pimpin. And in her body language, it was clear that she was about to return the song to a purer place than my half-black, half-puerto rican ass ever could.
At first, my ego was alert. Someone was saying my shine wasn’t good enough. That I was doing something wrong. I notice my attention wanting to focus and try to reclaim my gladiator flow. But as soon as I tried again, I immediately tripped on another lyric. Which made the group of friends, who had all been surrounding me — holding on to me while they sang and bounced along with me — start to laugh hysterically. And suddenly slaying the rest of the song didn’t make sense anymore.
What made sense was to focus on the diverse faces of my friends surrounding me; all laughing at my mistake, but sincerely wanting me to keep shining. What made sense was being in that huddle and feeling my arms and waist be squeezed, and my forehead kissed and supportive hands patting my back. In the moment of my imperfection, a unity was formed — a true love was felt and it was better than any praise for perfection I could have ever achieved on my own.
Solving This Life Together
The person whose ego grabbed the mic and tried to correct me might not remember it happened at all. Where as I’ll probably reflect on that moment for the rest of my life. There will always be an opportunity for our ego’s to jump in and save the day. Like Tyson says, our ego’s think they are BIG. But the trick to being the star in life’s arena is learning when to lift your sword and when fall on it. And especially when we’re vulnerable, falling on your sword can be a magical time of connecting back to those who are willing to lift you up, put the blade back in your hand, and tell you to keep fighting anyway. When we shine together, we really find the energy to shine brighter than ever.