Know Yourself, Be Yourself

The girl was walking toward the river when she saw a snake sunning itself on a rock. The snake was beautiful, but the girl knew it was a viper whose bite kills.

0The snake spoke to the girl, “Little girl, I cannot swim across the river, and I cannot row a boat. I need your help. You are kind and generous. Will you carry me across the river in the boat?”

The girl was taken aback. “No, you are a poisonous viper, and if I pick you up, you will bite me and I will die.”

The snake looked aggrieved. “Little girl, I must cross the river to get back home. You would offer me a kindness if you helped me. What reason would I have to bite you when you are helping me? If I bite you, we will both die.”

The girl thought for a moment, then agreed. Kindness is the best choice, she thought. She picked up the snake, laid it around her neck and headed toward her small rowboat tied to a post in the river. Before she could untie the boat, she felt a sharp pain in her neck. The snake has bitten her.

The bite was deadly.  The girl was confused. “Why did you do that? I offered to help you!” The snake dropped from her shoulders. Before he disappeared in the grass, he hissed, “You knew who I was when you picked me up.”

That fable always upset me when I was younger. Kindness was not rewarded, generosity and trust was punished. But there is another concept at work here. The snake stayed true to form. The girl, who was smart, ignored her own brains and let the snake sweet-talk her into doing something she knew was a bad idea. She acted against her own character.

Had the girl remained true to whom she was, she would have trusted her native intelligence and walked away from the snake, no matter how charming it was.

Know-YourselfThe real point of this story is the importance of self-knowledge. You know who you are. You know your skills. You know what you do well and what you are horrible at. And yet, it’s still so tempting to take the wrong job because the money is good, to start a relationship with the wrong person because of looks or wealth, to try to fit into a group that you have nothing in common with.

Make the most of who you are. Honor your own wisdom. If you aren’t sure of your values, there are tests like Via (you can take a free test here) or Myers-Briggs (you can take a free Jungian test here) that can help make it clear. Play to your strengths.

Knowing yourself is the first step to being yourself. Fighting against your true nature is a hard battle. You can choose to grow, to change, to become who you want to be. But start with who you are.

–Quinn McDonald helps people know themselves and thrive.

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13 thoughts on “Know Yourself, Be Yourself

  1. So I am an INTJ (and very close to INFJ)…
    Thanks for the story. There is a song I listen to in my car which has a variation of it (a wolf and a scorpion), and I always wondered what this is all about. It just didn’t make sense to me. And it always made me sad, so I skipped it more and more. Now I know what to think of it!

  2. INTP here, as well. This story reminds me of a fairy tale involving a sea dragon and a monkey. Same thing, really.

  3. I remain an INTP with only a slight variation in all scores which proves your point as I haven’t changed at all since I first did this test some 30+ years ago. Popeye had it right when he said “I am what I am!” And Oscar Wilde with “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

    Kia Kaha!

  4. Many cultures have this same story. As my wife often says, pay more attention to who the person is than to what they say. And I’m with you, every time I hear a version of the story i am sad for the bitee.

    • It is a widely-known story, starting with Aesop. I still cringe because it looks like a trusting person is punished, but I have to re-frame it to realize that we should trust our deep knowledge and others past behavior. It’s important.

  5. Know too that others will not necessarily share your values. They will not, for instance, necessarily reward your kindness with kindness simply because you would.

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