The parable states that a beggar had sat by the roadside for 30 years when a stranger passed by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar. “Sorry, I have nothing” replied the stranger, and then asked: “What’s that you’re sitting on?” “Just an old box... one I’ve been sitting on for as long as I can remember” replied the beggar. “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No, what’s the point?” replied the beggar, and further added: “ There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar decided to open the box and with astonishment, saw the box was filled with gold. ¹
The moral of this story/parable can be applied to multiple levels. For the purpose of this article, the writer will redirect it toward an understanding of the purpose of PDP as an integral part of life for students in higher education. As in the story, the stranger who has nothing to give, yet prods the beggar to look inside that box, could very well be likened to that of the role played by a PDP facilitator; and furthermore, that box may not be just any box, but “something even closer: inside yourself.”
The Dearing Report (1997) played a major role in the introduction of Personal Development Planning (PDP) into universities. This report strongly recommended that students receive structured opportunities in order to facilitate development in critical areas such as increasing awareness in both the learning process, and in how to improve personal performance. Now, you may well ask: “How does one do that?”
It is the view of this writer that the key words in the above paragraph are “increasing awareness.” In fact, in the above-mentioned Dearing Report, it was stated prior to the other development issues that students should become more aware of themselves. This is logical in the eyes of this writer, though perhaps not emphasised or understood in the wider domain. Nevertheless, in order to answer questions such as: “What do I really want?” and “What can I do now to put myself in charge of my own future?” , there must be a creative and active awareness of one’s own personal inner dealings with life, and these inner dealings are the thoughts and feelings that we either consciously, or unconsciously, put into our daily life.
If the man who had sat on the box for thirty years had but for a moment questioned the illusionary thought that “...it’s just an old box...” , the story would have been very different indeed. We all carry that box.
(PDP = Personal Development Plan)
1. (Tolle, Eckhart: Power of Now: Hodder & Stoughton: 1999: page 9)