The question

The question that can alter the quality of your life

Years ago I attended a seminar in which the speaker asked a question that, on the surface, seemed rather obvious in answer.

The question was simply:

Would you rather be pitied or admired?

The room quickly rumbled with snickers and exaggerated expressions of surprise that anyone would even contemplate the preference of pity over admiration.

As the speaker quieted the room down, he challenged us to take this question to heart. 

He asked us to mull it over seriously rather than dismiss it recklessly.

He told us to take our time with the question.

He challenged us to contemplate the consequences of choosing one over the other.

And then he added the pièce de resistence:

he requested that we superimpose this question onto the state of our lives thus far; review our daily actions and consider what such actions may or may not say about our true and perhaps unconscious preference of pity versus admiration.

Well now, that changes things doesn't it?

The room quieted down as people considered the challenge that lay before them.

Minds were suddenly free to analyse and ponder and spin in any number of directions.

And spin they did.

No longer was this a straight-forward connect-the-dots kind of answer.

Suddenly there was a legion of thoughts and meanings and beliefs to trudge through.

Past actions to reflect upon.

Language to decipher.

Emotions to uncover. 

Truths to be revealed.

In some cases, hard truths.

What is fascinating about this innocuous little exercise is that it reveals a very real psychological need that may not always be acknowledged, considered or even known; whether unconsciously or consciously, we each seek to fulfill our need for significance (the feeling that we matter, that we are special or distinct in some way in our lives).

This is not a bad thing.

It is a human thing.

And unless you are an utterly enlightened ego-less human being (if so, I am truly in awe), it is a virtually universal need.


whether we realize it or not, pity and admiration both individually and ultimately fulfill our need for significance:

by gaining the perceived sympathy of others, we gain a perceived place of significance in their mind and hence feel significant in our mind,

by gaining the perceived admiration of others, we gain a perceived place of significance in their mind and hence feel significant in our mind.

In either case, all roads lead to Rome.

It's a win-win...or so we think.

Perhaps the brilliance of this question, however, is that it encourages us to discern the type of road we wish to travel on our way toward a feeling of significance in our lives?

Perhaps in revealing such a truth to ourselves, we are free to consciously choose the road by which to reach such a destination and thereby alter (for the better) the quality of our lives.

So I ask you...would you rather be pitied or admired?

Lana Bastianutti