The Greek philosopher Socrates famously declared that the unexamined life was not worth living. Asked to sum up what all philosophy could be reduced to, he replied: ‘Know thyself.’

How are we doing with this critical need to examine our lives and know ourselves? Wellness Wednesday is going to pursue these questions over the next few weeks.

How do we come to know ourselves? Although various experiences influence how we come to understand ourselves, messages received from family, peers, teachers, other adults and the media have a major impact on our self-concept.

Messages have power. They can influence our thinking, feelings, and actions. Sometimes the influence is direct and intentional; sometimes it’s indirect and unplanned. Messages can be in our best interest or our worst interest.

“Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.”

Such was the case for Sharon, a kindergartner who was told by an intimidating girl on the playground that her face was blue. Running home, Sharon asked her mother, Helen, if her face was blue. After calming her daughter, Helen explained as they looked in the mirror that Sharon’s face was not blue no matter what anyone else said. Helen reminded her daughter that the other girl’s opinion was not true and was intended to get a laugh at Sharon’s expense. She advised her daughter to reject the message and, next time, to look in the mirror herself when someone made a comment about her.

The story Chicken Little offers a great example of the power of messages. When an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head, she tells her friends that the sky is falling. They believe the false message and are frantic. Her friends don’t check her emotionally delivered message with any facts or their own experiences. Without questioning, they take her message in and accept it as their own fate.

I recall being sick and missing a few days of school when I was in 5th grade. When I was feeling better, my parents told me that I could return to school but couldn’t play in the basketball game that night. Upon telling my coach that I couldn’t play, he responded, “You have a yellow streak down your back.” By this he meant that I was afraid to play in the game. Although I didn’t say anything back to him, I thought, “No, I’m not afraid of playing basketball. I’m not playing because my parents won’t allow it.”

Had I accepted my coach’s message that I was a coward, it would have made a major impact on my sense of self. Like Chicken Little’s friends, I would have believed a false message.


  • Recall a false message that may have been sent to you.
  • Did you accept this message as true or did you reject it?
  • What difference did that make?

If you are raising, teaching, or working with children or youth, what false messages do you see them receiving? What impact does this have on their sense of self?

From our Top 20 team and seekers of truth: Willow, Tom, Paul, and Kevin.

Paul Bernabei
Top 20 Training