Self-Worth Lessons from the Blind Men and An Elephant

Dear Beauty,

Have children’s books ever clarified your thinking? I love the ones where a lesson is skillfully embedded into a simple story. Today I’m thinking of the beloved book, The Blind Men and the Elephant. You may remember, these six men each touched one part of the elephant and were completely confident that their limited perspective was the one and only right way to define this new creature.

As the story unfolds, they tell each other what the elephant is like: a wall, a snake, a spear, a tree, a fan, a rope. In truth, the elephant is like all of their descriptions and more. By taking the advice from the wise prince, they found out that there was partial-truth in each perspective. And when the prince suggests they ride the elephant home, they discover a totally new aspect of this creature; the ability to carry them from here to there. On the way home, I wonder if they saw their arrogance or if they remained blind to it?

This story is rich with lessons, but let’s look at how it teaches us about self-worth. Self-worth, simply put, is how much we value ourselves. We feel shame if we value ourselves too little, and arrogance if we value ourselves above others. How can we honor the Golden Rule of “treating others as we treat ourselves,†without a healthy balance of self-worth?

Forty years ago, a 22 year old advertising genius from L’Oréal made this word famous and changed the narrative for selling hair color. Before that, a man told us about the softness of his woman’s hair. L’Oréal gave the woman a voice and confident actresses told us that even though Preference was the most expensive product on the market ($2.75), they would spend the money because, “I’m worth it.†To me, it seemed oddly arrogant, yet later, others changed the mantra to “You are worth it,†to send the message that ALL of us are worth it.

Self-Worth questions permeate our world. My dad used to talk about feeling like, “A penny waiting for change.†The consultants’ most difficult task is to decide how much to charge when they bid a job. Life is a negotiation in love, friendship and at work. The results will be more equitable if we exude a sense of self-worth.

By now, you might be asking what the blind men and elephants have to do with self-worth? With very limited knowledge, these guys judged the elephant by inspecting only one aspect of the creature. They took a complex animal and minimized its essence.

My suggestion is that WE are the elephant and the greatest crime in the world is to judge ourselves too narrowly. We look at individual aspects of our lives, calling ourselves one thing: I am short, I am thick, I am not smart in math, I have an ugly nose. It may be human nature to obsess about one aspect of the self, but if we only see one thing, like the blind men, we can never really know ourselves.

A few years ago, I got a wake-up call about being one-dimensional in a way that affected my self-worth. My sister-in-law Joyce made an observation about me: “Jan, when you talk about growing up, you always talk about the negative things. Weren’t there any good things about your life?†Actually, by most standards, I had a great start in life—with a few minor complications. Joyce could sense that I wasn’t seeing the whole picture and her question help me to change my story.

Recently, I’ve been holding workshops called “Character Safari: First Steps in Writing Your Story.†I knew they would be helpful to folks, but what has shocked me is how this simple two hour session stimulates a greater sense of self-worth for the participants.  Comments like, “I realize that I’m a survivor,†or “I see that I have gifts to give the world,†thrill me. By taking the time to see the self from more than one vantage point gives us “new sight†about our value, our self-worth.

There’s one more lesson from this fun story about the 6 blind men. In the end, the wise prince tells them that the elephant is more than the sum of all of its parts. In addition, it is a vehicle to bring them home.

We are the vehicle, just like that elephant. The power is within each of us to use our talents and skills to bring us to where we want to go. This fact may be hidden from us until wisdom and reflection make it clear.

Yes, you and I are the elephant, and with the proper respect for our worth, we alone can bring us home to peace, happiness and purpose.

If it’s time to boost your self-worth in order to fully appreciate yourself, join us for a future seminar. Email me at [email protected].

May your self-worth build your confidence,

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