Disclaimer: This post is inspired by a question asked of writer Todd Brison on Quora. You can find his website here.
The lie that society has taught me to believe since I was about two years old when I was rejected by people at a daycare center, is that one’s worth is dependent on how much you accomplish and/or are to other people. Maybe there are some of you who have or are still believing this very lie. It’s easy to believe, especially if you live in a developed country like I do. The phrase “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” comes from this mentality. It says that, basically, we should be self-made and need minimal, if any, help from others. This mentality also does not take into account or value those who are disabled or otherwise cannot do certain things all by themselves. It may see people who need help of any kind as “weaker,” more “useless,” or somehow “less valuable,” than their able-bodied counterparts. The only benefit to believing this lie is that it forces you to be diligent and not lazy. However, the drawbacks, in my mind, are not worth this benefit. First of all, it devalues people. It not only devalues the disabled or sick but also everyone else because it reduces our worth to be only what we do and if we are “useful” to society or not. Racism and other forms of prejudice derive from this mentality that other people are worth less because of what they do or don’t do in society. Also, this lie is a form of pride. Believing this lie does not allow one to get the help and support they need, because of the stigma of shame and embarrassment of feeling “worthless” if they admit they need help. If one accomplishes success in society’s eyes, this person may become arrogant and look down upon others. Finally, this lie sometimes influences people to spend their life on things that are not as essential, such as becoming a workaholic to the expense of his or her health and loved ones. Because this society is accomplishment driven, some people may chase after money, power, sex, or work to the point of being obsessed with them and delve into becoming an addict, which is never good. If this society based someone’s worth more on how they beautiful and unique they are, for instance, instead of just what they can contribute to society, this wouldn’t be such an issue.
Here are some ways we can counter this lie and its effects:
- Value people.–I have written several times on how we should value people. For these posts see this and this. However, it is worth repeating. One way we can value people more is to thank people for the good that they do to us and others. For instance, if you see a colleague or a boss take the initiative to help you with some of your work because they see it may overwhelm you, say ” Thank you. I appreciate your help.” They are not obligated to help you, but the fact that they did anyway needs to be acknowledged not only for their sake but also for yours as well. Another way we can value people is to encourage people when they feel upset or depressed. Tell and show people that they are still worthy of love even if they don’t accomplish everything they desire or hope.
- Demonstrate and encourage humility.–One way to demonstrate humility is to genuinely apologize when you make a mistake or offend someone. Never say, “I’m sorry, but…,” because you are just excusing what you did, which is not a real apology. The correct way to apologize and make amends with someone you offended is to a.) I am sorry I did x and that I hurt you by doing x. I will promise to try to never do that again. Will you forgive me?” b.) Work to not only offer restitution for the loss the offended party incurred by your mistake or sin but also to never offend them again. Another way to show humility is to be willing to be vulnerable. Never be afraid to ask for someone else’s help or admit that you are not perfect. Yes, it is a risk sometimes. Many people aren’t willing to be vulnerable because they are afraid of what others will think of them and that they will be rejected. That used to be me too in the past. Now, I am not so afraid anymore, because I now know that their opinion really doesn’t matter. It is what God thinks of me that really counts. Also, the people that reject us for being vulnerable and honest with them are probably insecure themselves, and striving to please them is really a waste of time because they will never be satisfied with anything we can give them anyway.
- Be successful in things that will matter for eternity, or for your eternal memory, not just on things that will only last in your earthly life.–Yes, it is good to be successful at one’s job or career, or get good grades. I don’t object to this at all. In fact, I encourage it! However, what I’m saying is don’t focus so much on worldly success that you miss what really counts or what memory you will leave on this earth after your life ends. In order to be truly successful, I believe one of the things people should focus on besides God is the relationships you have on this earth with other people. How are you treating those you profess to love or care about? This is something I think (me included) can do better. Do not be so focused on worldly goals that you miss the eternal and the spiritual, and your relational goals.
If we do these three things, this lie can be seen for the farce it is. People are inherently valuable, not because they can do a lot of good for us, or even the world, but because each person is unique and special in how they were created to be. Value and cherish others today, and never think that we are only as good as what we do.