Over the years, I must have talked to hundreds of people who wanted guidance to help them face some personal problem. In one way or another, we always ended up talking about self-respect. Especially in those cases where the person was feeling disheartened or incapable in the face of an obstacle, there always seemed an inability to recognize and sustain the sense of self-value.
Soon after launching the book, 'Human Values in the Workplace' I was invited to give a talk about it in the Brazilian Central Bank. As it was going to be televised to its units throughout the country, I went there the day before to make sure everything was fine. As I walked into the building in Brasilia, some attractive posters caught my attention. They had launched a campaign for people to treat banknotes with greater care. They informed me that they could save up to 15 million dollars a year if people didn't mishandle printed money. This gave me an idea about what I could do in my talk. That night I made a color photocopy of a 100 real note (about US$50).
The next day, after 20 minutes into the talk I pulled the note out of my pocket and said that I was feeling generous and would give it to anyone who raised their hand. About eight people put up their hands. Very ceremoniously I screwed it up and asked them if they still wanted it. They said of course they would. One of the organizers gave me a frantic look as if to say - What are you doing? What about the campaign? I indicated to her not to worry.
I then threw it onto the floor and stomped on it. Asked if they still wanted it, the people replied they did. Finally I picked it up and tore it in half. In the astonished silence, I offered both pieces to the first taker. As a staffer he joked, “I guess I could change it at the Central Bank”. There was a even greater amazement (and relief) when I announced that it was a fake note. With a glanced I calmed down the anxious organizer. I explained that I would never do such a thing with with a real note. I did it to show the foundation of self-respect and thereby, values-based behavior. In a way, we are like a note of real money. It doesn’t matter what the world does to us. It can screw us up. It can stomp on us. It can even tear us in half. Even so, our intrinsic value does not change.
Self-respect is about knowing and holding on to our own value. There are aspects of our foundational consciousness that do not change with the circumstances. It’s like a spiritual DNA. Even though we fluctuate with the changing scenes around us, certain deep qualities such as love, peace, happiness and truth are our internal ballast. They are part of us. No one and nothing can take them away. We lose them basically because we forget who we really are. When that happens, we also forget what is truly ours.