The Valuing of Ourselves

What is something worth? The factors that determine the worth of something—a book, a cell phone, a vase, life insurance, a pair of shoes, a painting, therapy, a movie, a class, a piece of property—are many. We determine our answer based on how valuable we think the thing will be to us, how long-lasting the thing could be, how useful, how beautiful, how practical, how pleasing, how inspiring.

What is a person worth? The factors that determine the worth of someone to us are many and on the one hand, are not dissimilar to the sort of worth we put on an inanimate something—we determine our answer based on how valuable we think that person is to us, how long lasting a relationship with that person could be, how useful, how beautiful, how practical, how pleasing how inspiring that person is to us.

On the other hand, the answer to what a person is worth is often dictated by the tenets of the constructs of our society—corporate, religious, political, military, sexual, moral—and so we determine our answer based on how financially viable a person is to a bottom line, how stringently a person will further an agenda, how blindly a person will perform in the name of duty, how rigidly a person will follow a majority opinion, how hard a person will tow the line they’ve been handed, how unfailing a person will believe in what they’ve been led to believe, how stalwart a person will be when standing up for the company they keep or the company for which they work.

And so it is that we make our way through our lives and our work attempting to be a person of balanced worth in order to be a true friend, a valuable employee, an honorable member of every group to which we belong. As we journey the various paths to worthiness, however, I fear we’re more willing than we should be to believe that the opinions of others provide us with the correct and certain answers to a critical question we don’t ask often enough—What am I worth?

I can only believe that for the most part all of us want to be fair, are willing to meet our obligations, understand our responsibilities, take our friendships, families, jobs and memberships seriously and will do whatever it is we need to do to maintain and retain them without losing track of our own values, principles, and ideas. But what happens when someone—a parent, a boss, an elected official, an officer, a buyer, a teacher, a religious leader —what happens when someone who, by virtue of the way in which our society is set up, has been put in a position to determine an outcome that effects us individually tells us we’re not worthy? And what happens if strangers feel emboldened by one person’s assessment to start agreeing that we’re not worthwhile? What if something we write is censored, what if the way we pray is ridiculed, what if the way we love is violated, what if the vote we cast is obstructed, what if the way we look is denied?

How many of us are confident enough to take ownership of our own worth and express how valuable we think we are by expressing our beliefs, our desires, our intentions, our feelings even if it means being accused of dissent, opposition, defiance, immorality, sin? Some might call such an expression of self-worth selfish or self-serving. Some might call it dangerous. I submit that such an expression of self-worth is necessary and essential to the continuity of ideas, creativity, and exploration that makes us human. The valuing of ourselves is the valuing of our very existence. And surely that is most worth our while.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc