Archives for June 2020

Beauty or Ugliness – Which do You Choose?

Television, films and the media insist that we have to be beautiful or handsome in order to be a successful human being. But what if we’re not? And what is beauty anyway? In some countries being fat is seen as beautiful; in others being thin. In some country stretching necks with rings is considered beautiful; in others stretching ear lobes. There is no absolute definition of beauty and yet it is something that most of us crave because it makes us not only acceptable but also desirable.

The story of Beauty and the Beast tells us that it is possible to find beauty if only we look inside ourselves and each other.

Image by Donald Teel – Unsplash

Once upon a time, Beauty lived with her father and two sisters. After their father lost all his money, he went away to try to recover it. When he asked his daughters what they would like as gifts, Beauty simply asked for a single black rose.

On his way home, the father became lost and wandered into a castle, seeking shelter. When he saw a black rose he picked it for Beauty but, as a result, was captured by an ugly Beast. The father begged for his life, explaining that the rose was for his daughter but the Beast would only let him go on the condition that she would come to the castle to be his companion.

At first, Beauty was very frightened of the Beast, but over time she realised that he was kind. When she dreamed that her father was dying, she pleaded with the Beast to be able to visit him. Reluctantly, he let her go and her father began to recover.

But whilst she was away, Beauty dreamed that the Beast was dying and returned to the castle only to discover that he was indeed gravely ill. Realising the depth of her emotions, she declared her love for him. Her words broke the curse that had entrapped him when he had been young and foolish and he immediately transformed back the handsome prince that he had been before he had been unkind to an old woman.

They fell into each other’s arms and lived happily ever after.

Love – Image by Mayur Gala – Unsplash

The tale, written by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve and published in 1740, was specifically intended to prepare young girls in 18th century France for arranged marriages to much older men. It told them that they would be kept in a castle where they would dress up for dinner and do little else apart from having children. Villeneuve wanted to reassure the girls that the husband did not have to be handsome or even immediately likeable and that the situation could be turned round if only the bride took the time and courage to get to know him.

However, the tale is about far more than romance. The moral of the story of Beauty and the Beast is that we should value inner characteristics such as kindness over other superficial qualities such as vanity. The Beast is symbolic of the ugly behaviour we are all capable of. Originally, he was a handsome prince but he was unkind to an old lady who then put a spell on him which could only be broken by love. We are all potential princes but if we don’t act kindly, then wisdom (the old woman) will put a spell on us and we will be forced to see our inner and external ugliness.

Image by Reimund Bertrams – Pixabay

Each of us has light and shadow characteristics and it’s up to us which we develop. Psychologically, we can divide ourselves up into male and female but this has nothing to do with gender. Male light qualities are assertiveness, courage, analytical thought, strength, vitality, decisiveness, focused attentiveness and a desire for achievement whereas male shadow characteristics are cruelty, tyranny and authoritarianism, being opinionated, aggression, ruthlessness, argumentativeness, domination, mechanistic behaviour and withdrawal.

Female light characteristics are feelings, emotions, tenderness, relatedness, commitment, fidelity, friendship, love, compassion, imagination, gentleness, romance, creativity, intuition and a sense of aesthetics whereas female shadow characteristics are moodiness, sentimentality, hysteria, bitchiness, disempowerment, possessiveness, vanity, smothering and a fear of intimacy.

As humans, we all have a choice: do we put our energy into the light or the dark? Unfortunately, it is easier to live in the shadow. Look at the book – Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Given free reign and anarchy, the shadow personality wants power over others; it want to be the best at all costs. In the end, it’s all too easy to become a Beast.

 Image by Andre Tan – Unsplash

What Beauty shows us however, is that being in the light means being more concerned with altruism than power. For example, she only asks for a black rose when her father goes away whereas her sisters ask for jewels and clothes; she agrees to live in the Beast’s castle as his companion to save her father’s life; she nurses her father back to health when he is ill; and she returns to the castle when she realises that the Beast is ailing. She doesn’t do any of these things for her own pleasure but because she wants to help others and this is the true message of the tale.

Image by Peter Pyw – Pixabay

Beauty and the Beast tells us that love has a different type of power and that, when it is turned into service to others, it has the ability to shine light onto the shadow and thereby change it. This is why Beauty is ultimately able to turn the Beast back into a Prince – light is always stronger than the shadow. She lives by values not her desires and embodies courage, energy and commitment; self-discipline, determination and, at times, discomfort. Beauty learned to love the Beast despite his frightening appearance and she shows us that we can all learn to love our shadows, too, and turn them into the light.

All it takes is perseverance, love and compassion. Then the prince reappears, we are released from our prison and at last free to become our true selves.

Image by Jill Wellington – Pixabay

When the Emperor is Caught Naked…

How would you feel if you were caught naked in the middle of a street? And what if you were being watched by thousands of people and a little child started laughing at you? I suspect that you would run as far away and as quickly as your bare feet would allow you.

Image by M.T. EIGasssier – Unsplash

This is exactly what happens in the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen:

Once upon a time, there was an Emperor who was so fond of clothes that he couldn’t stop buying new ones. Two swindlers came to the city and let it be known they were weavers. However, they explained, the amazing fabric would be invisible to anyone who was either unfit for their office or who was stupid.

Excited by the prospect of yet more new clothes, the Emperor paid them handsomely to start work. After he had sent several ministers who reported back favourably – although they had been too scared to admit that they in fact had been able to see nothing – he eventually decided to see this magnificent cloth for himself. When the cloth proved invisible, he was shocked that he might be either unfit for his office or stupid so, desperate not to be caught out, he gave the fabric his highest approval.

When the day came for a grand procession, he allowed himself to be dressed in his new garments. As he proudly processed in the streets, no-one dared to tell him that he was naked. Until, that is, a little child whispered that the Emperor had nothing on. When a second child said the same and then a third, the whispers grew louder until they had travelled round whole city. The Emperor ignored the whispers and continued processing with his head held high, as naked as the day he was born.

While all the children began to laugh…

Image by Pezibear – Pixabay

Hans Christian Andersen might have published this in 1837 but it holds just as many terrors for us today. Stripped to its core, the story is both about greed and feelings of unworthiness. Before the lockdown, retail therapy in the Western World had become a major hobby with a greed for more and more and more clothes, whether we wore them or not. The result of this was that the fashion industry has become the second largest polluter in the world after the fossil fuel industry.

As the lockdown eases and shops open again, we are being given a stark choice. Are we going to dive back into our old habits or are we going to do what the emperor should have done in the first place and see vanity for the illusion it is?

Image by Greg Montani – Pixabay

It is time for us to change our ways. Sustainable fashion is at last becoming trendy.

KOCO – Knit One, Change One Life – in India is a brilliant example of how hand-made, quality garments that are beautiful and a joy to wear are becoming sought after. When Danielle Chiel travelled to Tamil Nadu in India from her native Australia, she was appalled by the poverty she found amongst women. To help them, she first taught ten of them how to knit beautiful garments which she then sold globally through big designer brands. She also started teaching the women how to read, write and do maths and gave them choice for the first time in their lives. Now hand knitting has become a new language of global connection for more than 200 women and with each garment containing a label with some information about the knitter, the buyer is able to form a kinship while knowing that they are helping someone rise out of poverty. KOCO’s details can be found at www.koco.global

Image by 272447 – Pixabay

Poverty inevitably leads to a sense of unworthiness, the second moral of The Emperor’s New Clothes and yet a lack of self-worth is hugely prevalent in all societies, privileged or not. Over the past twenty years as a therapist I have noticed that almost everyone has a belief that they are not good enough. As a result, we either tend to hide away and become as small as we can, or our egos go on the rampage in an effort to make us appear grand, or we suffer from imposter syndrome and, just like the Emperor in the story, dread the humiliating moment that we will be found out by our peers.

Shame – Image by Сергей Корчанов – Pixabay

It is time to create a new, post Covid-19 normal and give the planet a chance of survival. If we are to do this, we are going to have to change the monetary greed that has been at the top of the global agenda for too long and replace it with values such as collaboration, kindness and the wellbeing.

Interestingly this change is already beginning to happen and it is being led by women such as Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. It is also notable that it is the female leaders of the world who are bringing about the most successful response to Covid-19.

The recently published book Women Leading, edited by Jo Baldwin-Trott, is a collection of chapters written by both male and female global thought leaders about how we can bring values into a leading position and start to create a more sustainable and ethical way of living.

As one of the contributing authors, I am absolutely thrilled to be part of such an exciting, relevant and much-needed book, whose forward and a chapter has been written by Danielle Chiel of KOCO. All proceeds will go to the KOCO charity.

If you would like to read about how collaborative, compassionate and empathetic female leadership is starting to redefine the way we live, Women Leading is available in both Kindle and Paperback and will soon be available in Audible. (Ignore the ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ notice for the paperback on Amazon. It is in stock and can be bought straight away.)

We only need 21 days to change a habit and the lockdown has given us more than that so let’s replace polluting fashion with sustainable garments and quantity with quality. If we do this then no-one will be able to tell us that we are unworthy or stupid because, like KOCO, we will be changing lives for the better wherever we are across the world.

Image by truthseeker – Pixabay