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.

how to develop high self-esteem

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.

Do we all pay the same price for our dreams?

My love of fables and allegories

When I was a child, I loved Asian fables. They are so neat. Here is an example of an old one, 塞翁失马, or “Blessing in disguise”:

A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away.

His neighbours said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

A few days later, his horse came back with twenty wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses.

His neighbours said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

One of the wild horses kicked the man’s only son, breaking both his legs.

His neighbours said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”

The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken legs prevented him from being drafted.

His neighbours said, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!”

The man just said, “We’ll see.”


is it easier for some people to achieve their dreams?

A modern take on the price of dreams

I found a modern fable written in Russian. While “Blessings in disguise” addresses judgement, this addresses dreams. It’s a nice deviation away from goal-setting, positive thinking and all that other motivational stuff, so here is my (slightly embellished) translation:

On the outskirts of the universe, there was a small shop. It bore no sign: it was blown away by some long-gone hurricane, and the owner was assured that all the residents knew where to find him anyway. The shop traded in desires.

The little shop offered a surprisingly vast array of choices. It was possible to buy almost everything here: huge yachts, apartments, marriage, vice-presidency of a multinational corporation, money, children, a dream job, a beautiful body, being top of the class, power, success and much more. The shop didn’t trade in life and death as that was the jurisdiction of the head office located in the neighbouring Galaxy.

There were those who wanted to go to the store, but never did: they stayed at home and wanted. For those who did visit, the first thing they enquired about was the price of their desire.

The prices ranged. For example, a dream job attracted the price of was abandoning stability and predictability, willingness to independently plan and structure your life, self-confidence and courage to work where you like, not where you “should”.

Power cost a little more: the purchaser had to give up some of their beliefs, be able to find rational explanations, be able to say no, know their own worth (and it should be high enough), allow themselves to be assertive regardless of the approval of others.

Some prices seemed strange: marriage, for example, could be received almost for free. However, a happy life was expensive: personal responsibility for one’s own happiness, the ability to enjoy life, knowledge of one’s desires, refusal to compare oneself to others, the ability to appreciate what is, awareness of one’s own worth and significance, giving up the “victim complex” and the risk of losing some friends and acquaintances.

do we all pay the same price for our dreams

Not everyone who came to the store was ready to immediately buy their wish. Some, seeing the price, immediately turned around and left. Others stood there in thought, counting their cash and wondering where to get more money. Some complained about exorbitant prices, asked for a discount or were interested seasonal sales.

Though, there were some who left the shop with their cherished desire wrapped in beautiful rustling paper. These lucky few were enviously looked at by other potential buyers. Under their breath, they muttered something about the owner of the shop being the successful purchaser’s distant cousin or acquaintance and the overall unfairness of how effortlessly their desire just fell into their lap.

Business consultants often emailed the owner outlining how he could increase profits by attracting more customers through reduced prices. He always refused, explaining that the the quality of desires would suffer should he lower the prices.

When the owner was asked if he ever feared for his business, he shook his head. He said that there will always be brave men and women willing to risk and undergo change to find the funds for their purchase. They would abandon the habitual and predictable life, become capable of believing in themselves and develop the strength and the means to pay for the fulfilment of their desires.

Reminiscent of a credit notice we see in small shops, the walls of this shop bore a small tattered notice: “If your desire is not fulfilled, it has not been paid for yet.”


do we all pay the same price for our dreams

What do we think of the modern fable? It has a controversial premise: that we all pay the same price for things. I wonder, do we?

Consider a Syrian orphan* vs Baron Trump**. Let’s say, in a few years Baron Trump will walk into some real estate conglomerate and go straight to the top. Unfair? I guess. Will he get to boss around lots of people? For sure, but only so long as it doesn’t really matter. He’s not really the vice president. He only has a fraction of the power of a normal VP. If he had been made into a real vice-president and then made a mistake, that would seriously sabotage daddy’s reputation and power in the said conglomerate. So daddy won’t let that happen: Baron would have to prove to daddy that he can really hold the fort. Baron’s big desire may be to not have to do as daddy says. That’s probably at least as difficult as it would be for the Syrian orphan to become vice president of that conglomerate.

In other words, attaining genuine autonomy and power is equally difficult for both the Syrian orphan and Baron Trump. What do you think of this logic? Even if our Syrian friend makes it to the top, Baron will probably get many more “get out of jail free” cards due to his connections. However, he will also have a lot of enemies he never made himself trying to put him in that proverbial jail. Does it all add up the same way in the end, or am I applying laws of thermodynamics to matters they simply don’t affect?


* My grandfather was a WWII orphan. He still made it to the top and wasn’t that unique in this regard.

** I’ve nothing against the child, but I know he’s the most appropriate figure in the public eye for my theoretical argument

The overflowing cup

I heard this Asian parable today. A student wanted to learn from a master. He already considered himself a good student and quite intelligent. The master sat him down for tea. The master started pouring him tea. He filled the cup, but did not stop. The tea was spilling and running down the students legs. Eventually, baffled, the students exclaimed – what are you doing?! The master explained: you cannot fill a cup if it already full.


Asian culture is so interesting. Modern day Asia and the US value achievement. Modern day Europe and history book Asia value savouring and contemplation. The culture of letting go that is so central to the teachings of Asian religions and meditative practices seems counter-intuitive at first. Will you learn if you let go? Are you giving up? What is the difference between letting go and giving up?

It’s not like we are as finite as a cup. However, the most accessed memories are references are probably quite a small portion of everything we know. I think that above all it is letting go of stuff that’s not relevant any more. There’s learning and then there’s going around in filtered – not tinted – filtered glasses. Past experiences create distorting filters that add meanings to things that aren’t necessarily there. Staying in touch with reality is our biggest job. It is the one thing that allows people to figure out how to make their dreams come true: you need to always be aware of the ever-changing direction of the wind so that you can adjust the sails in order to get to where you need to be. You also need have a map, however. You need to learn to predict the weather – as much as it is possible.

The trick is to constantly reassess what should be in your cup. Beliefs shouldn’t just be formed by your own experiences, but constantly change with incoming information. An awareness of outside data is important, but an awareness of your own internal software is equally as important – that’s what mindfulness is for. It’s not just garbage in – garbage out. It is good data in – garbage out if the software is garbage. Every day is an iteration in testing both perception and our inner workings.