When someone asks, “what is your worth?” -- do you think of money? Our sense of personal value is based on habits of mind absorbed from upbringing and values promoted by our culture.
Many people feel useless unless they are doing practical things, preferably for money through work. American identities are strongly tied to this. At the same time, Americans are cultural inheritors of Emersonian self-reliance and individualism. We fashion personas that too exclusively value usefulness through labor -- and self-sufficiency in life.
But what happens when you don’t have a job or you can’t care for yourself? Clinging to workaday usefulness and self-sufficiency causes a blindness to our true worth as friends, lovers, caregivers, and mentors. Sometimes facing adversity with dignity is the most useful example we can provide others -- and we can do this while physically, intellectually, or financially dependent.
To equate personal worth so strictly with self-reliance and physical utility carries other negative consequences: We fail to see goodness outside of these constructs, and we struggle to accept our need for one another. Our attitude toward aging becomes adversarial, and our approach to death can be unhealthy.
We should honor our good labor, ambition, and self-reliance, but also our soul-level interdependence. Wisdom conceived by our shared humanity sees value in a mutual gleam of understanding and forgiveness as much as it can admire the most impressive individual achievement.
I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.