An age-old fable that teaches self-esteem

One day a young man came to the Teacher and said:

“I came to you because I feel so pathetic and worthless that I do not even want to be alive. Everyone around me is saying that I’m a loser, a useless idiot. I need your help, Teacher.”

The Teacher, glancing at the young man, hurriedly responded:

“I’m sorry, but I’m very busy right now, so I can not help you. I need to urgently settle a very important matter.” He added: “But if you agree to help me in my quest, then I will gladly help you in yours.”

how to have higher self esteem

“With … with pleasure, Teacher,” he muttered, noting with bitterness that he was once again being treated as less important.

“Very well,” said the Teacher. He removed from his left little finger a small ring with a beautiful stone.

“Take the horse and ride down to the market square! I need to urgently sell this ring to pay a debt. Try to get as high a price as you can get and do not agree to the price lower than a gold coin under any circumstances! Head down and return as soon as possible!”

The young man took the ring and rode away. Arriving at the market square, he began to offer the ring to the merchants. At first, they looked upon the ring with interest.

asian wisdom fable abut self-esteem

However, when they heard about the gold coin, they immediately lost all interest in the ring. Some openly laughed in his face, others simply turned away, and only one elderly merchant kindly explained to him that a gold coin is too high a price for such a ring and that only a copper coin, or at the very most a silver one, can be gotten for it.

Hearing the old man’s words, the young man was very upset because he remembered the Teacher’s order was not to lower the price below a gold coin. The young man tried again. He went around the whole market offering the ring to a good hundred people. Defeated, the young man once again saddled his horse and returned. Feeling like a failure, he approached the Teacher.

“Teacher, I was not able to complete your assignment,” he said sadly. “At best, I could have gotten a pair of silver coins for the ring, but you ordered not to settle for less than gold! I don’t know whether this ring is worth a gold coin.”

“You just said very important words, son!” replied the Teacher. “Before trying to sell the ring, it would be nice to establish its true value! Well, who could do that better than a jeweller? Ride down to the jeweller and ask him how much he will offer us for the ring. Only, whatever he tells you, do not sell the ring. Come back to me.” The young man again jumped on his horse and went to the jeweller.

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The jeweller took his time examining the ring through a magnifying glass. He then weighed it on small scales and, finally, turned to the young man:

“Tell the Teacher that I can not give him more than fifty-eight gold coins at this time.” But, if he gives me two days, I’ll buy the ring for seventy, given the urgency of the matter.

“Seventy coins?” the young man laughed happily. He thanked the jeweller and rushed back in full gallop.

“Sit down here,” said the Teacher, listening to the young man’s animated story. “And know, son, that you are this very ring. Precious and irreplaceable! Only a true expert can appreciate you. So why are you walking around the bazaar, expecting the first person to do this?”

~

The fable doesn’t address the existence of incompetent or fraudulent jewellers, but you get the point. It is to find the right assessor, a jeweller. I like the fable, but I don’t really use this view of self-esteem. It is always a recipe for unhappiness to rely on someone else to tell you your worth, whoever the proverbial jeweller may be: a loved one, a boss, a child, whoever.

For me personally, self-esteem is something that comes free with being alive. I take a Nietzsche-like view on it: to be alive in an of itself is valuable, here and now. No need to wait for a heaven or an enlightenment, no need for approval from other entities. You are responsible for your actions and adaptations, but that’s all you can do. Something somewhere conspired to create the reader and me despite the seemingly omnipresent entropy of the world. Isn’t that enough proof for the fact that we’re worth a lot?

This logic breaks down if you look around and see other people as being worthless. Thing is, I don’t. That’s not to say that I’ve never met anyone I don’t like, but I genuinely see every living creature as worthy (though for some of them, I prefer that they exercise their worthiness somewhere away from me, for example, the family of carpet moths that infested my living room a few years ago. I wish I could let them live, but alas, it was them or me.)

So my answer is that we have to be our own jewellers. Moreover, we should spend most of our time purifying the metal and finding the clearest and most precious stones for what we bring to the world rather than worrying whether we can sell for one, 58 or 70 coins.

19 Comments Add yours

  1. Steve Ruis says:

    As much as I like to receive compliments/positive feedback, etc. I feel self-esteem has to come from within. This, though, is easy for me to say as I had two loving parents who supported me throughout their lives. I also know people who did not who lead lives filled with doubt. So now, I urge parents to cherish and instruct their parents so that they will not look to others for self-esteem as and when they grow up.

    A gift much like the teacher’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s one of those things that runs in families. Not that it’s genetic, but it is hard to teach a child something that the parents themselves never learnt.

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  2. GM Wallace says:

    As an aside, related to perfecting one’s own craft or art: Alan Watts

    In regards to finding a suitable jeweller – a significant proportion of truly fine, brilliant art goes unrecognised in its own time and culture. We can all only hope that our own thoughts and words may resonate, if not currently, at the very least with some future zeitgeist or cultural paradigm. The democracy of information access and self-expression has created a perceived devaluation of any specific semantic unit of information; in an (information) economy, the oversupply has led to a predictable flattening out of perceived value and attributed significance. Humanity and it’s many cultural expressions of identity is/are still adjusting to this accelerating complexity expressed as the information economy and ecosystem we have embedded ourselves in. I am optimistic that quality jewellery and craftmanship will find a way to bubble up to the surface of this proliferating ocean of words and information. There are ongoing selection pressures for information environment survival and this will inevitably evolve the necessary patterns, symmetries and niches for powerful, insightful creatively expressive art, writing and othersuch semantic jewellery.
    🙂

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  3. sarawatchorn says:

    Lovely. A pivotal thing to remember when it seems all our “Earthly” value has been stripped. 😉

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  4. arealwookie says:

    I enjoyed the fable but cannot wholeheartedly agree with Nietzsche’s statement. Our self-worth is merely a reflection of our understanding of God’s love for us in Christ.

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    1. Yeah, Nietzsche was vehemently against Chriatianity

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  5. aviottjohn says:

    Great story! And I agree with your conclusions. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ben Aqiba says:

    Great post Martina,

    I believe that we should themselves evaluate and determine the value.That we are the best jewelers in the world,and when we reach that level to consider ourselves very worthy,we will be.We are what we think we are .

    Thank you

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  7. hermitsdoor says:

    I agree that we often seek value from external sources — authorities, social media, popularity, conformity within a group, etc. However, developing a sense of value come from within and our interpretation of experiences. The issue is not whether I am a success or failure at some enterprise or adventure, but how I adapt to both my achievements and mistakes.
    Oscar

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  8. Hi Martina!
    Thank you for that thought provoking post. I had heard of a similar story before, but I was glad to know that you had a different opinion on what self-esteem should be. I agree with you that self-esteem should come from within. However, it can be pretty difficult to fine tune our brain into thinking that what the world think of us does not matter. Most of us have been conditioned since our childhood to seek appreciation from the outside world, starting from being told to write neatly to get a ‘star’ and a ‘very good’ for our ‘ABCD’ . Ultimately, what we think of ourselves determine who we are, just like Buddha and Descartes said.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Anne J. says:

    I love this post. I like the fable a lot. It makes a lot of sense to me. Even better is what you said about not relying on others to evaluate our worth so, as you said, best that we are our own jewelers. Thank you for this. 🙂 May I please share this / re-blog?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Anne J. says:

        It is my pleasure. And, thank you, Dr. Martina. 🙂 Love and hugs xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks Anne 🙂 Have a lovely week ahead

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Anne J. says:

    Reblogged this on I think, I say, I do and commented:
    I love the fable. It sure is good to know that perhaps I have not gone to the jeweler yet. Even better is Dr. Martina’s thought on this that always relying on another person, notwithstanding the expertise, to tell us our worth isn’t so good. Isn’t it best that we be our own jewelers?

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  11. Thanks for sharing the wonderful fable.

    I think even when we say we only need ourselves only to feel worthy, that may not be entirely true. If we can get over criticism or put downs from one person easily, it might because we believe that there are *other* appraisers that would value us differently. If one actually believed that very few (or zero) other people find oneself worthy, is high self-esteem even possible? Is it just a matter of tuning down or tuning out the critical judgements and seeking out the positive ones?

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    1. Interesting – and points to the root of the issue.

      In theory, I believe that it’s not down to finding the right appraiser. It makes our existence too dependent.

      In reality, we all depend on each other, so over time we are likely to find the “right” people. For some people it’s their family, for some people it’s the consumers of their work, for some it’s God. I don’t mean to say that the views of others don’t matter, but their weight should only be a fraction of one’s own opinion, I believe.

      Liked by 1 person

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