“Don’t Put Your Self-Worth In The Hands Of Swine.”

This quote was the main piece of wisdom given by Anna Shapiro at my college’s commencement speech. She described feeling devalued early in her career, misunderstood, used, and unappreciated by those in power. And she advised us not to let assholes ever dictate our sense of self-worth.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding this quote.

On the surface, it seems obvious: Don’t let jerks have power over you. Watch out for the douches, the abusers, the takers, and the Donald Trumps of the world. Avoid them like the plague. Instead — find your people, the people you trust, and allow them into your heart and soul. This is excellent advice.

But I don’t work or collaborate with assholes. I don’t suffer them or interact with them — or haven’t at least in a long time. And yet, as a person familiar with low self-esteem, I return to Anna’s quote and ask myself: who are the Swine in my world and how do I put my self-worth in their hands?

There are people I’ve trusted in, invested time in, believed in, or befriended who ended up breaking my heart, or not valuing my worth as a human being or artist or friend. I’ve born bitterness from these relationships, struggled with jealousy, was left out of communities, and felt worthless at times.

But these people aren’t Swine. They are good people. They are kind people. They are complicated people. They just don’t like me. They may not care for what I put out. They may find me grating or boring or needy or whatever. Who knows? I might just not even be on their radar.

And yet, when I put my self-worth in the hands of even decent people who I want to like me and don’t, I suffer for it in much the same way as Anna described in her quote about real assholes.

So what did Anna really mean by Swine?

This is what I think: “Swine is in the mind.” The Swine is how you perceive how someone sees you. It is your understanding, your imagination, your idea of the person that can become the Swine that consumes your self-worth.

It is how you think someone thinks of you. It is your perspective on their action or lack of action. It is looking in the rear view mirror and seeing a car driving away from you and deciding from the retreating view that person’s a bad driver. I can invent all sorts of stories. How many times have I deluded myself with a story of someone disliking me and found out it wasn’t true at all? How many times have these ideas led to gossip led to rumors led to ‘concrete’ beliefs about people that have little bearing on what actually was happening? It is these stories that are the Swine I must not put my self-worth in. As a storyteller myself, I hate to say it: but the story can be the problem.

Most of the human race are not Swines. Most people are good people. But we can make almost anyone swine in our minds. It’s easy: I just deliver my self-worth to people who don’t value me in the way I want them to and voila — I have created the Swine.

My need for people to like me is the Swine. Which means deep down, what I feel Anna really meant was to take care not to put my self-worth in the hands of my need for approval.

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Performer, storyteller, teacher - living in NYC and traveling worldwide (www.philipmarkle.com). Artistic Director of The Brooklyn Comedy Collective.

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