And Up the Ladder the Ego Goes

Last week’s article referred to the Ladder and how we make decisions. This article would then make this part two of the Ladder series.

Click this link to read “In Search for Poop.” Part one.

The Ladder is a way of describing how we make decisions, process information, and develop conclusions about ourselves, others, and our life. Those conclusions form the bases of our ego development, personality, and the way we operate.

Where did it all start?

ladder of decision making
The Ladder for your reference.

Back in the day, way back in the day, alright more like a million years ago, give or take a century or two, humans needed a better hunting tool. That tool took the form of a better brain.

The primitive (“reptilian”) brain or the archipallium at the time was responsible for survival, drive, and instinct. Will it eat me? Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Those are the three main questions it answered.

If it got it right, you lived. If it got it wrong, you became a fossil.

I am not sure if scientists can fully know for sure, but what we do know is that the brain continued to develop and evolved with the addition of the modern brain (frontal cortex), which is responsible for problem-solving, memory, language, judgment, impulse control and reasoning — making this new brain a much better tool for hunting.

Instead of staying at the watering hole forever, because you knew that is where you saw food last, therefore you were going to stay there until it showed up, even if you died waiting, after all, that was where food is, with the new brain you can now reason with yourself, saying, “Well, it’s been a long day. It looks like this watering hole is a bust today. I’ll call it a day and start looking for signs of a better spot. Better yet, since I can communicate, I’ll talk to Fred and see what he saw today, and maybe the two of us can come up with a plan.”

With that new brain, we could get into a lot of further trouble and stay alive long enough to tell someone, like our kids, sharing our knowledge for the betterment of humankind.

Unlike the primitive brain, you could shut off the modern brain, and we have several excellent examples of that primitive brain making our life so much more exciting. We don’t shut it down; we merely run it autopilot.

Let Go of My Ego

Bust of head with an illustration of the parts of the brain relating to functions
Photo by meo from Pexels

Many articles provide information and theories on how and why the ego exists. Let me add one more.

The ego acts as the mediator between the(1) conscious and the unconscious. In part, it is your identity that you consider to be you making you have the feeling that you are separate from everything else.

It provides control to those instinctive impulses and creates defenses when it feels you are in danger. The definitions of risk are dependent on the perception and conclusions that you made when you climbed your ladder.

The ego helps us adapt to the external and internal realities of our world as we have interpreted it and creates the rules of engagement.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Albert Einstein

When we are born, we have no idea what the heck is going on. As far as we know, we can’t differentiate between images, and we think that we have a connection to everything. There feels like there is no separation.

Slowly and it is interesting how slow this process is, given the fact that we are the only mammals on this earth that take so long to mature. Okay, maybe some do over shorter periods than others, and some don’t mature at all, the point being a deer is born one day and twelve months later is off on its own and by eighteen months is mating! That does not happen even with the most developed human babies. Being a parent, we wonder if our kids will ever grow up!

By six to eighteen months, we start to recognize ourselves in a mirror. The mirror also serves as a metaphor for how we view or project ourselves as we are older. Later on that in future articles.

We start to become aware that we are separate, at least physically, and as we interact with the world around us, we start to climb our Ladder and begin to form conclusions about the way it is for us. There is a process called Individuation that takes place, and that is where the conscious and the unconscious integrate, and we form the beginning of our personality.

The World exists not merely in itself, but also as it appears to me.”

Carl G. Jung

Up to this point, Aristotle referred to this period as our “blank state” or Tabula rasa, where we were all born without mental content. Our knowledge would come from our interaction with the world, our experiences, and our perceptions. Modern genetics studies have shown that not only are there observable human traits that are passed down through the generations, unobservable ones too. Before you go and blame your parents for everything, which I am sure you do already, it only forms part of the equation. Much of it still is dependant on our own experiences.

I love the blank slate analogy. To me, it means exactly that, something like a bare canvas to an artist; it has potential. Potential to be anything it wants to be. Nobody is born with a brand label on it, nor with instructions attached!

young girl sitting beside a piano playing with the keys
Image from rawpixel.com

“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Parent, here is your brand new baby lawyer, along with the 18 years of instructions that you must follow. By the way, don’t’ screw it up!”

We don’t start that way. We don’t get born to be anything. We live to “become” somebody.  As a parent, we want the best for our kids. We want it better than we had it. This evolving is partly due to why we don’t live in caves anymore.

As we grow, that blank slate gets etched with what is making sense in our world,  our perceptions, and our conclusions. It becomes our reference guide for living and to keep ourselves safe. We continue to climb the ladder with each new event, experience, and encounters  that we have, marking the tablet and then filing the information into our unconscious brain under the heading of “Really Really Important Stuff.”  The coding for that information takes the form of a pattern so that we can recognize it in the future and then run the program accordingly.

“All children are born geniuses, and we spend the first six years of their lives degeniusing them.

Buckminster Fuller

By the age of seven, that slate is pretty full and almost set in stone. We then spend the rest of our lives, proving and providing evidence to support our conclusions, what we wrote down on that slate.

Unfortunately, as you have probably figure out by now because you have been running these programs from your filing cabinet, there are coding flaws.

All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.

Leonardo da Vinci

The other issue with this slate of ours is that it is very hard to change because, as Carl Jung stated, “it is anchored in with our perceptions.”

Part three of our continuing series on the Ladder will go deeper into how we can use this model as a model for change by challenging our perceptions and belief systems.


RICK RUPPENTHAL is a professional Personal and Leadership Transformational Coach and a Certified Change Practitioner. As a retired paramedic of 30 years, Rick has held positions in leadership, education, as a coach and a mentor. Through those experiences , understanding and adaptability, Rick has dedicated his life to a continual journey of self-discovery, adventure and guiding others on their own journey of self-discovery and personal effectiveness.

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