Years ago, I heard a story about an old farmer, who decided to do something with a huge piece of granite, that sat in the middle of his sweet potato field. He got out a hammer and chisel and before long; he had carved a very respectable, life-sized rendition of an elephant. The sight amazed his neighbors and all the passers by on the highway, because it looked just like a real elephant grazing in his field.
A local reporter asked the amateur sculptor, how he ever managed to make such a lifelike reproduction of an elephant. The old farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant.”
Every one of us carries with us, a certain picture of ourselves in our mind—our self-image. Many people believe that the current image they see of themselves is written in stone—this is who I am and this is who I’ll always be. The mature person knows we are forever evolving. If for some reason, we don’t like what we see, we can change it.
Like that block of granite, in the old farmer’s field, your self-image and mine were formed— bit-by-bit, layer-by-layer— by the people and experiences we have been exposed to, over the course of our lifetimes. Every experience and every relationship— good, bad or ugly— plays its own unique part. If we are to continue to grow and evolve, we must chip away at the bits and pieces of our self-image that don’t look like the person we want to become.
It’s easy to see how the good experiences—like hitting the game-winning homerun, being chosen as lead character in the high school play or beating your annoying, know-it-all, little sister at Scrabble—added value to your self-image. But it’s sometimes more difficult, to recognize how bad and ugly experiences, play their part for the overall good.
Some experiences—like the painful and expensive ones—help shape our character and allow us to learn. As shitty as it might be to go through them, these kinds of experiences serve to add essential elements to our makeup— like character, specialized knowledge and discernment. Some of our toughest moments in life teach us how to love, cope with loss, and have compassion and empathy for others and their own personal struggle. These are all good and solid elements of a healthy self-image and should remain intact.
But with every positive effect, there often comes a negative side effect. And for a person to carve out a rich, rewarding life, there are some parts of our self-image—those formed by the negative side effects— that must be chipped away.
In cutting things away, a good place to start is with anger, resentment, hatred and animosity toward others. We will never harm anyone by resenting or hating that person, but we will do serious damage to ourselves.
Anger, animosity, resentment and hatred manifest themselves, as physical and behavioral characteristics, which make us look bad in the eyes of the world. It is the unfailing tell of a small person—a person who has failed to grow emotionally—to spend his life plotting and scheming of ways to “get even” for real or imagined injuries. We tell the world who we are and how we are to be treated, and for the most part, the world does what it’s told.
Festering negativity wears away at more than just our outward appearance and attitude. Heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive problems and other debilitating physical conditions, can often be traced to chronic negativity and long held resentments—even minor ones. Beyond all that, and perhaps most importantly, negative thoughts, feelings and emotions strangle our creativity and problem-solving ability.
In chipping away at the parts of our lives that don’t belong, we should do everything in our power to get rid of hate, self-pity, guilt and remorse.
We can’t change our past—what’s done is done. All we have is our present and our future, and—like a virgin block of granite— they can become anything we want them to be.