How much are you worth?

BeggarI don’t know her name. In fact I don’t know anything about her except she was an incredibly poor beggar child. I never realised when I took this photo that years later her face would still be etched in my memory.  I remember the crossing of our paths as if it was yesterday. Maybe it had  something to do with where we met – the Amber Palace near Jaipur in India – and the contrast between the indulgent opulence of the surrounds and the undisguised poverty of the child. Or maybe it was the sense of guilt that I carried no money or food and had nothing to give her. But for a few moments something happened that left an indelible impression – we found common ground as two human beings who understood and accepted each other. She seemed to understand that I was unable to respond to her desperate need and behind that shy smile and sad eyes I saw a sweet sensitive child who refused to yield to her adverse circumstances. In that brief encounter we dropped all pretenses and I saw her true value, a fellow creature whose worth was equal to mine. Whenever I look at this image I find that I regain a perspective about all that is worthwhile in life and am reminded of how much of human pursuit is waste and vanity.

Have you every calculated your worth?  Not the sum total of your assets which you can’t take with you but the actual flesh, blood and bone that is sitting in front of this screen.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils we are

Amber-Palace65% Oxygen
18% Carbon
10% Hydrogen
3% Nitrogen
1.5% Calcium
1% Phosphorous
0.35% Potassium
0.25% Sulphur
0.15% Sodium
0.15% Chlorine
0.05% Magnesium
0.0004% Iron
0.00004% Iodine

plus trace quantities of fluorine, silicon, manganese, zinc, copper, aluminium, and arsenic.

Total value, approximately USD $1. Add a bit more if you have gold in your teeth and a titanium prosthesis – but who is going to waste time extracting the metal add-ons once you have departed? Ironically a sheep is worth more since the meat can at least be sold for food and the wool used for clothing.

Of course, you are more valuable to the spare parts industry, somewhere in the vicinity of USD $650,000 for your transplantable bits and pieces – warm, and in good working condition. And if you want to maintain perspective have a look inside an urn of human ashes and you will again be reminded of your finiteness. It is all a bit morbid and bordering on being repulsive, apart from being a useless exercise. All up, it is somewhat confronting to think that you are worth more dead than alive.

We tend to use the words ‘worth’ and ‘value’ interchangeably even though by definition they are subtly different. Worth has the feel of ‘inherent’ and value is usually an assigned measure of worth. It all gets a bit circular. Whichever way you choose to define the terms, what is significant is that we all live under the shadow of the great impediment of the capitalist mindset that assigns a measurable quantity to all things, animate or otherwise. Its mantra is, “all are not equal”. Some are worth more than others. Once the idea takes hold we invent socio-economic parameters to affirm it. A refugee fleeing persecution can arrive on the shores of a secure nation only to be imprisoned behind razor wire and banished indefinitely on a remote island simply because they do not meet the essential criteria of worthiness. Legislators are able to implement laws that allow for execution of the lowest. Wealth and power begin to equate with greatness and influence, importance and privilege. Some ensure that they are above the law.  Others change the law to suit themselves. The chasms of separation which measure the relative value of all individuals are the ubiquitous enforcers of our ideas of worth.

valueIt is little wonder that so many of us struggle with self-esteem issues. Relative human worth is the warp and woof of our society – not equality and liberty as we might be led to believe. And the more a population increases the more apparent the impact of relative worth becomes as we fight to control our finite resources. There is a definite correlation between how much we  accumulate and our adopted value system which defines us by these measurable socio-economic criteria . The rich becoming richer at the expense of the poor become poorer is not a new phenomenon. Increasing power of the few is always gained at the expense of diminishing power of the many. Karl Marx was heading down this path this with his observations of the perpetual struggle between the haves and the have nots and formulated concepts that changed the course of history. The struggle to establish value and preserve self esteem has deep sociological roots.

Once we reach the stage where we measure worth by wealth, the inequality and disparity becomes self-evident, and with it comes the insidious idea that some people are actually more valuable than others. It is complex phenomenon, but like or not, we end up with labels and price tags that define who we are and the degree of power and privilege we have over our fellow (ask anyone who relies on social security whether this is true or not). With the awareness of these labels and assigned price tags comes inner discontent and anxiety to balance our personal ledger in favour of the ‘worth’ column.  This is the reality of human nature and nothing much is going to change for a long time. So rather than fight against the reality it makes more sense to learn how to live with it. It is how we go about this that is where can make it or break it.

I want to make are four observations and conclude with another personal experience.

  1. The pervasive idea of developing a healthy self-esteem is not the solution to value adding. For all its acceptance as a concept it may actually be more counterproductive than essential for our mental and emotional well-being.
  2. External affirmation and internal affirmation do not necessarily equate. We can be surrounded by family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who all like and affirm us and still be plagued by self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. ‘Likes’ are not a value adding tool.
  3. We may need to change our reference point for determining value. Rather than assessing human worth in terms of success, prosperity and achievement (externals) we might want to measure self worth by something more permanent.
  4. Your self-worth is ultimately decided by you, and you alone.

worth

The people’s market in Delhi, India is not on the ‘must see’ list of most tourist itineraries but I managed to persuade a taxi driver to take me there and spent the morning getting lost in a sea of humanity. The experience is a total assault on the senses with unexpected surprises around every corner, like these three girls fighting over a red elastic hair tie that someone had lost. They were beggar children who survived by scavenging for food and anything else they could find of any value in the market place. They had obviously formed an alliance for protection, but were nevertheless the fiercest of competitors. The tall girl on the left had the agility and strength to secure the meagre trophy. The small child on the right contented herself with the crumbs that fell from the table. The one in the middle really caught my attention. She had fire and determination – look at the anger in her eyes – and was a born survivor. But she had an undeniable presence and was clearly the leader of the little pack. I couldn’t help but wonder what untapped qualities she would have been displayed in different circumstance. No, there is no slum dog millionaire ending to this story. The trio quickly melted in the crowd once more, intent in making it through another day as one of countless millions of this world’s poor. The pathetically shabby misfitting dress was her only possession, but as a person she had a grace and dignity that gave her undeniable worth.

Next: Self-esteem – not all that it seems.

 

Rejecting rejection

‘Rejecting rejection’ is hardly the most arresting title for a blog, but the whole process of dealing with the constant invalidation that threatens to undermine us on a daily basis is not terribly exciting either, so we will look at this huge topic in a down to earth, no frills way. For example, as you look at this video you could easily miss the hidden invalidating message. That is the way much invalidation works. In effect it is saying that we should not get too carried away with a sense of our own importance – that we are really, really tiny in the order of things and that size does matter. In effect it depreciates and devalues us to a very low level of worthlessness. Sorry, it is a clever production with mind boggling statistics but I cannot endorse its conclusion.

Surely creatures who are able to observe, measure and describe such staggering phenomena deserve to be granted a pedestal of prominence in the Universe. In the order of things we are really quite remarkable. Greatness should not be measured by size but by capacity. We could argue that we are merely an insignificant speck of cosmic dust or we could fairly reason that we are the pinnacle of the existence in all this vastness. We are the only confirmed example of highly intelligent life. Which raises the question as to why we are so quick to denigrate ourselves? The answer is to be found in our ability to make comparisons. Let me explain.

Think back over the years to infancy and childhood and you will identify the foundations of much of our deepest fears and insecurity and the origins of low self esteem. Few creatures are more vulnerable and dependent than the human infant who is totally reliant on others for everything. One of the paradoxes of development is that some of the most important bits happen when the mind is most plastic and open to a wide spectrum of impressions and influences which have the potential to remain for the rest of life. During these years most of us are repeatedly channeled messages of, amongst other things, our inadequacy. The roots of inferiority and rejection go back a long way. We are surrounded by others who are more powerful, more intelligent, more experienced, more capable, bigger, stronger, faster . . got the message – learn your place and don’t get too big for your boots. If we are fortunate we may find reassurance in messages of love and affirmation of caring parents, but generally speaking society will leave us with an clear impression of our inadequacies. One inescapable phenomenon endures – our thinking and beliefs are largely shaped by the psychological and sociological agenda of others. None is so perfect and mature as to be totally free of the vulnerability of inferiority and few free themselves completely of pockets of self-doubt. The hopes and aspirations, fears and prejudices, opinions and beliefs, preferences and persuasions of significant others become embedded and remain ‘us’ until such a time as we challenge them.

Think about it. We are given an identity the moment we are born. ‘It’ is no longer a neonate, but the first sentence each of us ever heard probably included the word ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. We give ‘it’ a name which usually sticks with us for the rest of our lives. We are taught, disciplined, moulded and shaped within a family and a community to behave, talk, think and believe in a given way. To change the status quo of how life has defined us is both challenging and unsettling, yet all of us in varying degrees are driven by the desire to discover our identity and uniqueness.

It is here that the process of comparison takes on significance. With maturity we start to separate and question much of what we have accumulated throughout the formative years. We begin to compare ourselves with others and challenge the reality of the inferiority/superiority messages we have grown up with. We also commence creating our own self-portrait – a blend of the person we perceive ourselves to be, the person we would think we would like to be, and the person we really are. Now that really takes some nutting out! The two constants in all of this are the fear of rejection and the need to be ourselves, to be different. Although individuality is king (especially in adolescence), we also understand the importance of being accepted by the mob but we also want to be substantially different in order to stand out from the mob while not being defined or controlled by the mob – quite a juggling act.

Way to go

There is no joy or benefit in living with rejection and an abiding sense of inferiority. If we can somehow turn the focus away from the negativity of rejection and focus on how to be accepted and affirmed by others as well as ourselves, we can effectively reject rejection. In other words, the more affirming messages we receive of acceptance and adequacy, the less we will feel rejected. Hopefully, the dark shadow of rejection will fade in the sunlight of acceptance. At the heart of the phenomenon of social media is the principle of ‘Likes’. For all the promises of having countless friends the artificial social context of hyperspace is incapable of effectively meeting our core belonging needs. All too often the desperate need to accumulate ‘Likes’ can back-fire resulting in increased anxiety associated with a fear of being rejected, ignored, ridiculed and disliked. Affirmation needs a face-to-face dimension to test the authenticity of the the ‘Likes’. We all need ‘Likes’, but they have to be genuine.

Here are three dimensions. They are not black and white and may merge at times, but they serve as a simple model to understand the mechanics of acceptance

_MG_8625Passive acceptance.

We learn to live with the messages of rejection and inferiority and content ourselves with a trade-off between being part of the group and being regarded as an okay person, even if we might score on the ‘average to inferior’ side of the equation. There is no stigma attached to being average and there is no rule that says we should be the brightest star in the crown. The group at least provides acceptance and allows us to belong somewhere. Inevitably water finds its own level as we engage with others similar to ourselves as we find our place in the companionship of this affinity. Don’t underestimate the power and efficacy of belonging to a group. It provides security in numbers and often shields us from the barbs of those invalidators who capitalise on our sense of inferiority. Social groups, clubs, sporting groups, workplaces, schools, churches, even Facebook, are essential havens for people seeking friendship and acceptance. While we may find that we lack the skills and the stamina to continually battle to hold the high ground on the top of the heap we discover that safety in numbers is a fair compromise. Not everyone needs or wants to be the life of the party or the stand-out celebrity.

The seriously sad situation is that of the person who is so damaged in an abusive relationship that they do not have the emotional and physical resources to extricate themselves from the black hole of rejection. There is only one path out of this hell and that is find the courage to ask for help.

Improve your approval rating.

This really works .. up to a point. Endless words of advice have been given on how to be a more attractive person. From beauty to athleticism, talent, humour, assertiveness, wit and intelligence, developing your potential, packing your own chute . . it is a long list based on the recurring principle that we can add value to ourselves and become a more attractive and likeable person. We intuitively admire and are attracted to people who scrub up well. The first of the great rewards of excellence and achievement is that we begin to feel good about ourselves. There is a justified pride in a job well done, in having purpose and making a difference. The second reward is equally important. Others are much more likely to value and appreciate us. So, why not spend time in personal growth and reap the benefits? There is no question that this journey can and does change us. We grow in confidence and approval as we think and act positively. The more skilled and proficient we become in dealing with life in its many forms, the more likely we are to realise our potential and be surrounded by many who affirm us. It is a great win-win.

But there are also a couple of snags that lurk beneath the surface for the unwary. The first is to confuse character with personality, and the second is to depend on personal growth as some form of a technique to get others to like you. The polish of personality may make a person attractive but it is not a true estimate of their value. To rely on personality and technique as a manipulative tool to persuade others to like us is to set the wheels in motion for eventual rejection. No-one likes to be conned and personality minus character eventually risks revealing itself as a inferior, transparent veneer. An while we are on it, conning yourself is not a good idea either. Gazing into a mirror and repeating a mantra about liking yourself ain’t going to work.

Value adding.

KindnessValue adding (character growth) requires thought, effort and time. It is a metamorphosis that doesn’t come quickly or easily and one never really ‘arrives’, but the inner transformation is real and the results are worth it. This theme will be developed as this blog unfolds.

At the core is the concept of coming to love yourself as you grow in character and integrity. It is impossible to truly love yourself and reject yourself at the same time. Furthermore, as you become ‘loveable’ others will accept and love you too. So the business of value adding not only resolves the problems associated with a sense of inadequacy, it also brings and abundance of love and affirmation.

The sticking point for many is that the idea of loving ourselves contradicts everything we have been taught in the past. We were brought up to consider the needs of others first and not be be selfish. In fact, the Seven Deadly Sins are all rooted in putting yourself at the head of the queue, something which we know intuitively is a formula for rejection. The self love being described here is not selfishness and it is certainly not narcissism. The starting point is simply an acknowledgement of our worth as a human being and the decision to enhance that value through growth of character. It is a commitment to ourselves to become the person we want to be and has little to do with becoming what other people want us to be. It is about being able to live with ourselves and and like ourselves . . genuinely. If you can be at peace with yourself, you will be at peace with the world.

Rather than elaborate at this stage I will suggest a kick-start. Try this short circuit and see how you go. Here it is – BE KIND. Be kind to everyone. Be kind to the cat and the dog. Be kind to yourself. Just be kind. It may take time, but if you hang there you will notice that things will change. Give it a go. You may be surprised at how difficult it is, but also be prepared to experience how transforming it is. There is much more to come.

Next: How much are you worth?

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A gorilla enjoying the morning sun in the Jersey Zoo, Channel Isles, UK