Why do we ask that question of people? It’s almost the very first question we ask, isn’t it? But that question puts people on the spot. I suppose, it’s how we try to figure out who people are. And, truthfully, you can glean a lot of information in that one question.
Some of the answers I heard yesterday were:
No one was bragging. They were simply answering a question. But weren’t you impressed? I was. I was also intimidated. And I began to dread – truly dread – the question being sent my direction.
Here is what I answered … “I used to be a high-school teacher now I …. [here is where I stumbled].” My husband would rescue me with: “now she’s an aspiring author, putting the finishing touches on her first book.”
What, I wonder, did that tell people about who I am?
It wasn’t until later that I realized my answer was past- and future-focused but not a ‘present’ answer. Does that make sense?
What do I do? That’s a present focused question, isn’t it? Here is what I do: I play with words hoping to construct interesting sentences and stories. I …. ummm …. I …. ummm….I feed the dog, walk the dog, pay the bills, do the laundry. Seriously, my to-do list for today is the following:
Oh, I’ll do a few more things. I’ll put gas in the car, I’ll likely cook dinner (although a restaurant sounds lovely), I’ll read a few chapters in a writing book. I may even watch a writing tutorial.
I tried to find the “feeling” word for how both the question and my answer made me feel. The only word that worked was REDUCED. I used to be something, do something, contribute. I used to be proud of my answer.
It’s strange – and quite difficult – to feel reduced. I’m struggling today with worthiness or value. Do I add value anywhere anymore?
How about this: Am I required to add value? If so, according to whom?
Go back up and re-read what others in my neighborhood do. Are their lives more valuable than mine? Is being an entertainment attorney more valuable than trying to be vulnerable about mental/emotional struggles?
Notice what I did not ask … I did not ask if an entertainment attorney makes more money than me or has more education than me. Of course he does.
If it’s not $ or education, what is “value” with regards to human existence?
Maybe it’s contribution. But how is that defined – who gets to decide what’s a valuable contribution?
I have an acquaintance that’s doing a Bible translation for a tribe in Nigeria. Is that a valuable contribution? Some would say ‘yes’ and others would say ‘absolutely not.’ What would the Nigerians who want a Bible in their language say? I write a weekly letter to a deployed soldier that I don’t know – is that valuable? I hope the soldier would say ‘yes’.
Are babies valuable? Many of you are annoyed with that question – of course babies are valuable, right? Why? How? Babies don’t contribute – they don’t make $ -- they have no education, they don’t have “important” jobs. Why, then, are babies valuable? What about dogs? Cats? Trees? (Yes, I realize all of those do contribute in some way – but none of them ‘intentionally’ contribute – they just are.)
Check this out from dictionary.com:
“1. Value, worth imply intrinsic excellence or desirability. Value is that quality of anything which renders it desirable or useful: the value of sunlight or good books. Worth implies especially spiritual qualities of mind and character, or moral excellence: Few knew her true worth.”
Let’s dig deeper for a second. Intrinsic means: belonging to a thing by its very nature.
Value and worth, therefore, are MINE simply because I’m me. Value and worth are part of my nature – they are NOT granted by society or my neighbors or anyone else. Value and worth are NOT conditional upon a job or a title or a bank account or a long to-do list.
Value and worth are YOURS simply because YOU ARE. That’s why babies and trees and dogs and cats are valuable – because they just are!
Value and worth are granted to me and you simply because we exist.
Now that’s a present-focused sentence I can embrace (or at least try very hard to embrace).
Next time someone asks me “What do you do?”, I hope I have the nerve to say: I exist, I live, I breathe, I add value to the world just by existing. (I probably won’t have the nerve but doesn’t that sound awesome!)
Maybe we should stop asking that question. What could we ask instead that allows us to get to know each other wholly without internal or external judgment? I don’t know the answer to that – but I do promise that next time I’m at mix-n-mingle, I’m going to try something else. I’m going to try a new question and a new answer. I’ll let you know how it goes!
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....