Sunday, February 19, 2012

Your Worth

Once again, as I sit down to write about a difficult and/or sensitive subject, I don't know where to start. This is usually where I decide not to try and be clever, but simply say what's on my mind. Also, to most of you, indeed to most people in general, this isn't a sensitive or difficult subject at all. I'm not entirely sure why I think it is to anyone. Let's just say that it was to me at one time in the past, and therefore may be to others now.

What are you worth?

The sum of your belongings? The skills you've acquired? Your knowledge? Your wisdom? Is it something more "meaningful" like friends and the love of family? Is it the service you give or the things you create? The mansions you've built on earth or in heaven? Is it goodness and kindness, or ambition and power?

There are "right" answers to these questions that vary with ideology. (No. Sort of. Yes. Definitely. Of course. Yes. No, yes. Yes and no. Respectively.)

The values of our culture are reflected in our use of the word. My first question is generally understood to refer to monetary assets. It could apply to a person or a stock price, as if the two were interchangeable. And try as we might to convince each other that what really matters in life isn't the money one makes and spends, yet our language betrays us. The music we listen to, the news we watch, the ads we consume all speak to the truth that your worth is dependent—on money, talent, beauty, or power.

But what are you really worth?

Let's set aside the external things and look at the better options from my list of questions: service, kindness, goodness, knowledge and wisdom, love and friendship. These are riches available to all. These are the things that make a life truly worthwhile, are they not?

They're like poison to some, more damning and painful precisely because they are free. Think of it this way—you can blame your birth and circumstances for poverty. Who can you blame for your lack of goodness? Your failures in school?

There are those who blame everything on others, I know. There are those who don't seem to care. But then are those who buy heart and soul into the American ideals that with hard work and determination, even the riches of the world can be yours, to say nothing of the friends and family, or at the very least, the simple joy of kindness to other people.

We all know someone who seems overly hard on himself. Every chance he gets, he'll take the blame, usually without a word—only a sigh, a dip of the head. Every passing stranger is an opportunity squandered, every conversation that falters, an abject failure. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't get better. Maybe it's depression, or maybe it's just a habit. Maybe it's only the bigger things that bother him, the unfulfilled dreams, the missed promotions, the lost relationships. Everyone has these things. Everyone loses, everyone fails, and everyone wants something better.

What does it get you? An empty regret that ebbs and flows. For some it consumes and overcomes, drowning out pleasure and light, crushing even the hope of managing a smile or a selfless act, of being better.

That's how it was for me. And that's what it came down to. I just couldn't do, get, feel, or be better. I was worthless, by my own estimation, in every regard from monetary (which bothered me very little) to personal (which hurt very much).

And why? Because I thought my entire worth was linked to what I did with my time. If I spent it doing good, improving myself, learning and growing, then I was increasing my worth. But by some cruel arrangement of psychology, it was impossible for me to do the things I thought would make me feel better. Such is the nature of depression.

Now maybe this hypothetical friend of yours isn't that bad. I believe what I'm about to say applies equally well to everyone with a tendency to feel worthless:

You can't do anything that will add to or subtract from your true worth.

Maybe you've practiced hard and become the next Michael Jordan. Maybe you're a bestselling author adored by millions. So what? 

Does your mother love you more now than she did before?

That's the non-religious way of looking at it. For me, the question is does God love you more than He did before? The answer is always no, for either.

And why is that? Because your worth isn't dependent on what you do. The people who really love you know this instinctively, and you know it about them.

What if one of my kids has a hard time in school? It might make my heart ache for him, but it won't make me value him less. Of course it won't. It's so easy to see in other people, but sometimes so hard in ourselves.

The next rejection you get, remember this. When you're rich and famous, remember it. Your worth is unmeasurably great to those who love you. Infinity plus or minus anything you can do is still infinity.

8 comments:

  1. Hey Ben- nice post. I wish it were as easy to say that we're valuable as to believe it. There is something to be said for completing something, making something- you really can develop self-worth that way, but at the same time it doesn't give you any more potential or lovability. It's an interesting problem.

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  2. Curiously, I recently read an article on low self-esteem in Psychology Today magazine. The basic gist of it was that a study (or maybe several studies) showed that low self-esteem can't really be significantly raised permanently, though some successes can provide a welcome, if fleeting, boost. All the self-affirmations and whatnot of the recent past had no meaningful effects and, often, caused the sufferers of low self-esteem to feel worse, as their internal worlds were so far removed from the words they were saying. What the author recommended instead was to work on coping skills--among them, questioning the dark thoughts and testing them, with an eye to re-framing them.

    For me, because of my religious upbringing, I suppose, I don't feel like the question to be asked is what folks are worth, because I really see us all as equal in the eyes of God. This doesn't keep me from wondering why some seem to have an overabundance of ick in their lives while others vanquish hurdle after hurdle, but still... :-)

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  3. You. Are. Awesome.

    Read it out loud to Mike and this is like the THIRD post of yours that I specifically bookmarked (I don't bookmark posts)

    VERY well said. It's the last thing about my kids that gets me the most, that spins what I do and how I feel onto something that I can actually attempt to put onto myself.

    Well said.
    Well done.

    :-D

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  4. After I wrote this, my wife and I discussed it at length. It seems that there isn't a single word to exactly convey my meaning when I talk about worth. (Synonyms like value are no better, and while there may be a better word, i haven't thought of it yet.) But she helped me clarify my thoughts further, and it comes down to this:

    There are different kinds of worth. While I reference all three, the one I end up talking about might best be described as inherent worth, which is what God and the people who love us see. I contrast it with externally assigned worth or what might be viewed as an individual's usefulness. The third is self-worth or self-esteem, and that's what really affects us, for good or bad.

    It seems to me that basing one's self-esteem solely on one's usefulness is a recipe for disaster. The same goes for basing it solely on one's inherent worth as a human being, a worth that doesn't change, though for the people I'm concerned for, there's little danger of that.

    The right balance is different for everyone and changes over time. If your usefulness seems low, remind your self-esteem that there's more to you than your failures.

    The practical application of this, for me, meant allowing myself to feel good about the smallest victories despite how far I still had to go. It let me reduce the immense pressure I'd put on myself enough to move, to change.

    That article sounds exactly right to me, Mina--coping skills instead of words. To be honest, I don't know exactly how I got from there to here, but thanks for exploring it with me, everyone.

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  5. Love this post, Ben, especially those last few paragraphs. It reminds me of a post I did way back when I first started blogging called "The Quarter in the Toilet."

    (Here's the link for that, by the way:

    http://motherwrite.blogspot.com/2009/12/quarter-in-toilet.html

    I try not to promote my own blog posts in the comments of other people's blogs, but I know that title would catch my eye, and besides, I want people to know the post isn't as disgusting as it sounds:) )

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  6. Yes, Krista, that's exactly it. A quarter in the toilet. Brilliant! I approve this link.

    I'm glad you made it through to the end. I have a roundabout way of getting to a point when I'm not quite sure what the point is, yet. (Editing? What's editing?)

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  7. WOW, Ben, this is awesome. Thanks so much. Absolutely what I needed right now. And the part about my kids is so true. And God too. I will remember this.

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  8. This was tremendously moving, again. No matter how you arrived at this level of understanding, I'm just glad you got there, and years ahead of when I did - no surprise! I'm not really sure what it takes to internalize your real worth, but I do know, from experience ;-), that no one else can make you see it! Love you forever!

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