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Maintaining Self-Worth When Facing Accusations: A Personal Reflection

A university professor stands in front of the class while showing a $100 bill. He asks the students who want this bill. Except for one person checking their social media, everyone raises their hand.



The professor takes a few steps, crumples the bill into a ball, and asks, "Who wants the bill now?" The person who was looking at their phone looked up indignantly and decided to raise their hand along with the rest of the students.


Nonchalantly, the professor drops the now-crumpled bill on the ground and begins to stomp on it. Again, he asks who wants the bill, and still, all the students raise their hands.


He picks up the crumpled bill and says, "This is self-worth. Life can try to destroy and belittle you, but you always remain the same value."


What is self-worth about?

Self-worth is about being able to value yourself regardless of what you can do, what you have done, or what others think of you. It is the ability to objectively look at your actions, talents (or lack thereof), and statements without attaching a judgment about yourself.


I have made many mistakes in my life, but I am much more than those mistakes. Do I regret those things? Yes. Would I do it differently next time? Most likely. Will I make more mistakes? Absolutely. But I remain valuable. Those mistakes are snapshots and have more to do with self-assuredness. I am not 'self-assured' that I will never make mistakes again or that people will always think positively of me.


Life can offer you many things: friendships, love, joy, and success. But life can also be relentless. You can be bullied at school, constantly rejected for a job, or lose loved ones. Prosperity and adversity in life are like hunger and thirst followed by satisfaction after eating and drinking. One does not exist without the other.


Self-worth and tolerance are connected

If I ask you whether you accept that a certain hundred-dollar bill was once used during a drug deal or to snort drugs, you would probably accept that. Even if you are completely against drugs. Did you know that 90% of all dollar bills in circulation contain traces of cocaine?


But what if I ask you whether you fully accept that you have ever misbehaved, lied to a good friend, or done something else you are ashamed of? What would your answer be? Learning to accept is a foundation for sufficient self-worth.


Acceptance, however, is about more than just accepting your own actions or words. It is also about accepting what others do or say. Whether you are or have been bullied or hurt, that too is part of life.


I received extremely good guidance and training from my former coach and mentor Wassili Zafiris. We even wrote a hugely successful book together about meaning, a new form of enterprise, and self-worth. But things went wrong between us, and that was certainly not only his fault. My share was at least as large.


Last week, I met him at the birthday party of a mutual friend. We hardly speak to each other anymore. I don't avoid confrontation, so after a while, I sat down next to him. He kept the conversation with the person he was talking to going as long as possible and seemed to ignore me. But yes, what can you do if someone keeps sitting? Socially, you have to say something, and I found myself worth that, too.


Eventually, we chatted about trivial things, and before we knew it, we were sitting a bit secluded from the rest when the hard truth came out.


Wassili: "Ben, you destroy people. DESTROY!"


Ben: "Okay, I hear you."



With a few too many glasses of wine, he adds, "I have always defended you to others, but I don't any more! You are a sick alcoholic. You are sick!"


I look into his somewhat hazy eyes and say, "Okay, tell me more, you have made me too resilient as a coach to take offense at this."


"No, Ben, you are the evil on earth!" he says with an even more slurred tongue. "You have hurt me so much! You abuse and hurt everyone around you and want to destroy people."


I gently touch his arm and say, also not entirely sober: "Tell me more, Wassili. It doesn't affect me. You were too good a coach for this to get to me. I may just have a different idea about it."


Wassili gets even angrier, and rightfully so as I did not take any offense of what he was saying, and throws out a few more words not meant for paper or the internet. I remain calmly loving. No word he says can take away my self-worth. But of course, it does mean something to me, because who wants to lose a good friend and coach?


But it went further. "And that book we wrote together! I am so ashamed of it because you don't live as we discussed in our book! You are not real and change."


I cannot deny that I had to swallow for a moment because if anything has changed after his coaching and mentorship about 20 years ago, it is that I fully live the content of our book. Even more than that. Moreover, my life is entirely dedicated to helping others, so it was the first comment that hurt me. Maybe from a deep intention that he would be happy and proud of what he has achieved together with and through me, but thanks to another sip of beer, I composed myself.


"I see it differently, Wassili," I said, after which another tirade came about how I destroyed him and other people, once called him drunk at night and said very wrong things and something else I couldn't quite understand before he walked away.


People are just human with their emotions

Not for a moment in the conversation with Wassili did I have any doubt about my self-worth. I valued him just as much as how he experiences and has experienced things, despite having a completely different experience myself. We all have our own version of reality, and he might have intense sadness over things I once said and did. That is his right, but it says nothing about me.


I have made my mistakes, also with him. Does that make me less valuable? Yes, maybe at that moment in his eyes, but not in mine. His emotions, beliefs, norms, values, faith, or view of reality do not determine whether I am a good, bad, or another kind of person than I believe I am.


What is the difference between arrogance, indifference, and self-worth?


Arrogance


Arrogance is an attitude where someone considers themselves superior to others. Arrogant people can look down on others and often feel better or more important. This behavior is usually not appreciated and can be experienced as disturbing and disrespectful. Arrogance often stems from insecurity and a need to prove oneself.


Indifference


Indifference is an attitude of disinterest or apathy. Indifferent people show little emotion or involvement in situations or with others. They can come across as cold or uninterested, which can make others feel ignored or unimportant. Indifference can be a defense mechanism to avoid pain or discomfort.


Self-Worth


Self-worth is the ability to value and respect yourself regardless of external circumstances or opinions of others. People with healthy self-worth know their strengths and weaknesses and can accept themselves as they are. They do not constantly need affirmation from others and can receive constructive criticism without it affecting their self-image. Self-worth goes hand in hand with self-confidence and self-respect.


How could I have been more empathetic?

It was 11:00 PM, and we both had had a few drinks, which certainly did not make the situation easier. Active listening can further strengthen your empathy, and at that moment, I believed I was doing so without difficulty, but you can imagine that I can no longer judge that entirely objectively.


Active listening means not only listening but also asking questions and summarizing what the other person says to show that you really understand what they mean. "Wassili, I understand that you have experienced a lot of pain through our interactions. Can you tell me more about specific moments that have hurt you?"


Additionally, I tried to show verbal and non-verbal understanding. Non-verbal signals such as nodding, eye contact, open body language, and touch show that you are involved and interested in what the other person is saying. Verbally, I confirmed this by saying: "I can imagine this was very difficult for you." But yes, with a few beers on, even that intention sometimes comes across less well and depends on the setting and whether the other person picks up on it.


Validating feelings is also crucial. By saying: "It sounds like you really felt betrayed and hurt by what happened," I tried to show that I take his emotions seriously and respect them. Even with the best intentions, it is difficult to fully convey that empathy in such a setting, and honestly, if the other person has also had a few drinks, that message often does not fully get through.


What struck me, and often happens in such cases, was that I felt no empathetic feeling from Wassili. He only expressed harsh accusations. Despite his emotions running very high after all these years, I remained in my own strength and did not feel attacked at all. This made it easier not to react angrily. His emotion says more about his experience and nothing about my perception of the truth.


In fact, I also had a point. The awareness of my own worth and the ability to remain calm despite the rather harsh accusations helped me stay constructive, even in an emotionally charged situation. But unfortunately, without result at that moment.


Reflection on the Incident with my formal coach and friend Wassili Zafiris

Look, Wassili was not the only one who had a few too many drinks at that time. I can do that too. And with a little alcohol - but also without - you can come across as a bit arrogant or indifferent with a lot of self-worth. He may have experienced it that way too, but that is not directly your 'problem' if this happens to you with a lot of self-worth (and certainly not with a glass of alcohol).


Of course, you can show empathy with words by saying you understand, and that you are sorry for how he or she feels, but come on! It is just their perception of what happened over the years.


I might have asked even more questions and tried to understand better what his pain and perception are. Empathy and understanding are the magic words here. But how can you always be able to do that in every situation? Even my first 'teacher' was not able to do that at that moment. He could also have asked more and understood how things were going for me instead of putting his own feelings and emotions first. It would only be annoying if someone has the arrogance and indifference to believe they are completely and solely right. But despite not wanting to feel or believe that, it could have been the case. Could that be due to that one extra glass of wine?


I find it very annoying that Wassili feels this way. However, I do not feel more or less valuable because of what my (once) dear coach and friend thinks about me. I am sure it will be okay between us someday. Of course, it matters to me how the relationship between Wassili and me is now. But where two fight, two are to blame. I am me, and I like to learn, make mistakes, and am always open to feedback, whether it is justified or not. Crumple me, stomp on me, I know what I am worth. If he applies that towards me too - with a glass of wine or two - we can step over the painful details of life and bumps in our friendship together, and that will certainly happen someday.


Wassili, thank you for the coaching and wise lessons. You are also just a human being, just like me.

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