Nestor, the character Homer envisaged both in the Iliad and the Odyssey, is used as a synonym for a wise old man. The king was about 70, when he was the oldest and most experienced of the Greek chieftains to lay siege to Troy. Wise and obedient to reason, he lived so long that he ruled over three generations, as the narrative goes, and counselled moderation among the quarrelling Greek leaders. His wisdom was revered and much sought after, full of wise advice laced with stories of his past exploits.

I brought up the anecdote of Nestor conversing with an old friend on the essence of a key psychological feature – self-esteem. We pulled ourselves from the precipice of never seeing each other again as we had agreed to disagree on a dissension that had been going on for a long time. In the end, I prevailed and convinced him.

I remember the onset of our debate. It coincided with the arrival of a CEO, an expat, decades ago at a company where my friend and I worked together. Our CEO used to exalt self-esteem, and we highly regarded him. Ironically, what seemed so appealing to us in the beginning became the reason for our disagreements later.

Most notably, among others, was the CEO's assertion that he had fulfilled his self-actualisation needs, as expounded in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, referring to the need for self-fulfillment – the desire to become all that one is capable of being, developing one’s potential and fully realising one’s abilities. Such a view of oneself was unpalatable to me, but my friend found it intoxicating.

Maslow believed that people have five types of needs that are activated in a hierarchical manner. Once a need is met, the next highest in the hierarchy is triggered, from safety and social needs to self-actualisation in the end.

Correspondingly, social needs are activated after both physiological and safety needs, which entail being liked, included and accepted by other people. Esteem needs refer to a person’s desire to develop self-respect and to gain the approval of others. The desires to achieve success, have personal prestige and be recognised by others fall into this category. Our CEO, I was convinced, was staggering between these two needs, as he chose to look down upon others instead of supporting those he led. Later, his undue sense of himself was manifested in the company’s bottom line.

Another experience with self-esteem was in college when we were taking Comparative Politics. It was amidst socialism’s heyday in Ethiopia, and not only the thought of attending the course yet the name of the course was music to me and most of my classmates’ ears.

Our instructor was from Western Europe. As though that was not enough, the day the course started, he showed up with another surprise, lifting our optimism to get much from the course. A guest professor accompanied him to our college; we had two instructors from the then two main ideological camps, zealously expounding their respective key political differences.

It all started well, yet after a few episodes, it started to take the shape of a debate. Then, all of a sudden, to our dismay, the visiting professor stopped coming to our classroom. From the circumstances of the situation, we understood that no matter how we could have insisted, the arrangement was in no way to continue. Our professor had too much self-esteem, a bloated sense of himself. His views were not to be challenged. Without that diversity of opinions, our education suffered.

From the organisational to the individual, there is a need to come to a middle ground when it comes to self-esteem, as our assessment of ourselves is not sufficient, and as others are our mirrors. These are lessons we learn from the unpretentious down to earth Nestor types and the over-confident CEO and college professor.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 05,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1140]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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