Monday, September 13, 2010

The Value of a Person

I've been thinking a lot lately about what we value in other people.  I think there are some scary cultural norms but the real answer varies greatly from person to person.  I recently moved to a college town and I've overheard and witnessed all kinds of snobbery based on education, which I find so ironic.  I have friends who have prestigious degrees and friends who are professors and they don't seem to judge based on a person's education or lack there-of, but I have some exceptional friends and much gratitude for them.

There are so many different ways we categorize people- education, type of employment, perceived success or achievements.  I just wonder what these things really say about a person.  I have met so many "educated" people who have routinely proven themselves to be ignorant or closed-minded and really out of touch with reality. I experience the unfavorable looks when I tell people I clean a library, as if that tells them something about who I am.  I've seen how I shrink to some people when they learn what I do.  You know what? They shrink to me because of that reaction.

I have been at this job for (almost exactly) eight years and in that time I've really struggled with not defining myself by what I do.  I work with people who have told me I'm probably the smartest person in the building.  I don't know if I agree with that but I'm no slouch.  I have a voracious appetite for knowledge and am, therefore, very self-taught.  This means that there are a lot of things I know very little about and a lot of things I have picked apart as best I can to figure them out.  I think that's true of most people.  We learn about what we're interested in.  But I am sure that there is not a degree on this planet that makes anyone an expert in anything, and if there were, what's that anyway?  Someone who knows a ton about one thing.

Here we go with the circles again.  What I'm trying to work out is what is really important, what is really of value in a person?  When I think of my friends, the people who I spend time with, the first thing that comes to my mind is an open mind.  I have unpopular opinions and a lopsided world-view so I need to hang out with people who will hear that and accept me without the need to agree or disagree.  Kindness is the most important thing any of us can carry.  It's become almost novel, to be kind in general to those around you.  I like people who laugh easily and freely, and who have strange senses of humor.  I think authenticity is also hugely important.  If you're not being yourself, I don't care who you are.  I want to know real people.  I don't understand people who put on airs to try to make themselves appear to be perfect.  I see this a lot in people who have a lot of money.  That sounds judgmental and I think it is so I'll just fess up to that right now.  But I have a friend who lives in one of those fancy neighborhoods where all the houses look the same and everyone has to make sure their kids have the same new cool toy as the neighbors.  It just goes on and on.  There's such an immature attitude that seems prevalent in the whole little community.  My friend, an exceptionally sensitive, authentic, and generous person, is miserable and at a loss for how to deal with these people.  I know that not all people who have money are like that, but I think somehow in the quest for "bigger, better, newer, more", people forget about what is truly important.

I wonder about that greedy need. What if you had nothing?  What if there was no money, no car, no house?  Or what if you suddenly found yourself in a crappy "job" (like, I don't know, cleaning) and you had an old car and a rented home?  Would you suddenly be a different person?  The answer is yes if you defined yourself by those "things" in the first place.  I would like to say that I don't judge myself in these ways, that I don't have wants that distract me from needs, but I did grow up in America and I'm not immune to consumerism or to the sad way we evaluate things.  I think my awareness of it stops me from really buying into it all, though. 

I know that who I am is something (indeed, the only thing) that can never be taken from me.  I am a loving, kind person and I do my best to evidence that every day.  I am learning to be less judgmental and more patient.  I am learning about what really matters to me and how different that is from what the rest of society seems to deem important.  I stopped watching T.V. because it's so full of negative messages and feeds low-self-image.  I have realized that if I want to be a truly loving person, the most important thing is for me to love myself.  I can't afford myself the luxury of sitting back and saying "I'm only a custodian." or "I have no degree and therefore no worth>." because I don't really buy into any of that. 

I know that my worth is in what I do and how I interact with the world.  It's in how I show up every day. It's in the fact that I'm so content, so happy and feel so blessed to live my life that might, to others, seem like a struggle.  I'm aware of the things I struggle with but they're mostly worldly things and are not as important to me as they seem to be to others.  I have great friendships.  I have a beautiful, amazing daughter.  I live in a wonderful house with a gorgeous backyard where I can sit and meditate all afternoon.  I live in a cool city where there are tons of fun things to do.  I have a sense of awe and wonder at the world that fills me with love and peace every day.  I have difficult days when it's hard to find that peace, and then I wake up again and it's there.  I am truly blessed and will never be better or worse than anyone.  We are all here.  We are all one.  We are all worthy.


  1. Funny, I just wrote a long, drawn out response to your wonderful post and I lost it. That's life, we must let go.

    The gist of what I said was that I admire your honesty and courage. That I strive for authenticiy myself, and that I hope you consider me one of those friends who accept you for the lovely person you are, though I'm just on the net.

    I have a good formal education. But what I attend is the University of Life and am learning voraciously.

    This was a really good post. Thanks.

  2. Melissa this was excellent post. I look for the soul of the self of the person I am friendly with. What you do is of no importance to me and should not be to others. Who you and what you can offer from your heart is important. You stand above all those that stand back when you tell them what you do.... The irony of it all is that YOU are amongst the many philosophers, poets, writers, creators of the world!
    You rock my dear!

  3. Myrna- I am honored to consider you a friend. I've been so surprised by the affection I feel for my friends here on this blog. We share our hearts here and it's connecting, humbling, and beautiful. University of Life, I LOVE that! I attend there as well. I would love to take some college courses but nothing makes me feel the need or desire to have a degree. When we're free to study whatever we want, and there's so much to learn, why spend all that time and energy on things you don't want to know?

    YogaSavy- You always share such great things! This comment is humbling (there's that word again). I wish more people felt this way but I believe that as you and I and Myrna and other beautiful, loving people learn to embrace ourselves and thereby all else, more and more people will wake up to this, if only because it FEELS better. I am honored to join you as one of the "philosophers, poets, writers, creators of the world"! You rock too!!

  4. amazing post! loved it all but this line really resonated ~ I know that who I am is something (indeed, the only thing) that can never be taken from me. So true...

  5. Thanks so much! Didn't Janis Joplin say, "Don't compromise yourself, you're all you've got."? Who we are is what it all comes down to. When we love ourselves, that's a beautiful and comforting thing.

  6. Melissa my last sentence ( did not come out right) about being amongst poets( i do not consider myself one ) etc ... is that since you work in a library you are surrounded by the great writers, poets, philosophers and so on.... and that no one take away from you.... You are beautiful just the way you are!

  7. The value of a person - I think your last few sentences sum this up for me. I can always remember having this discussion at school when a teacher asked us who was of more value - a solicitor or a binman. The common answer was the solicitor as he was better educated/better paid/higher up on the social scale. My arguement was ah yes but society could survive without solicitors, I wonder how long we would last without our refuge collectors.

  8. So true! We simply could not function as a society without people doing all these "menial" jobs. And what's really important to realize is that there are no menial people. Who we are is not strictly defined by how we get our money. I think the people who define themselves by that are those who get a lot of money for what they do. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. YogaSavy- I missed your comment at first, I apologize. I have to point out, though, that we ARE some of the great writers, poets, and philosophers of our world. We may not be on the shelves of any libraries but we come here and bravely pick apart our lives, bearing our experiences of the human condition. We wonder at the whys of the way we think, act, feel... To me, this is the deepest form of philosophy- to pick oneself apart. And as for writing and poetry, we wouldn't come here if not for the drive to write- to communicate in that way. And your writing is very poetic! So thank you, and I do love the fact that I'm surrounded by books, that is such a comfort. But it's also a great comfort to be surrounded by great people (like you!) who are here now, figuring all this stuff called life out with me.