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I believe that, in order to enjoy life, we must feel that we have some value to other people. Our human nature is social – we want to connect with, and feel close to, others. That doesn’t mean we always want to be in company, but the desire to be known and appreciated by at least one other person, strikes me as pretty much universal. We express ourselves to be understood. As children, we want to be cared for. As adults, we want to be cared about, and have the opportunity to care for others. 

This isn’t always obvious – some people are so frightened of rejection that they isolate themselves from the wider world. And a small minority treat other people with so much brutality that the desire for connection seems totally absent. And yet, I don’t believe it’s ever truly extinguished, but rather that it gets smothered or warped by layers of fearful thinking. 

Very young children who are not subject to abuse or neglect do not question whether they have value or not. They make the assumption subconsciously that their life matters. They expect to be fed and nurtured. They demand it. But as we grow up, we begin to fall prey to the fear that our value is not a given. We start to absorb ideas that tell us that it’s contingent on achieving particular things, or meeting certain criteria. This leads to a lot of insecurity. After all, we might fail to make the grade, and then we won’t have sufficient value to other people to be able to enjoy the intimacy we crave. We stop assuming we are innately valuable to others by virtue of being alive, and start to think we need to do things to earn our place in the world. We pick up these messages from the people around us, and the media we consume. As a result, we increasingly view ourselves as products in a competitive market. If we don’t work hard to increase our value, we will compare unfavourably to the other merchandise on offer, and no one will want to buy us. We will stay on the shelf, unwanted and alone. 

As a teenager, the misperception that I needed to treat myself as a product to be developed, hit me hard. I picked up on the notion that the way girls looked was the main source of their value. It seemed to trump all other marketable features. I reasoned that if I could improve my appearance, I could increase my overall value. And if I could increase my value, I would be able to enjoy beautiful feelings of connection. My overriding desire was to be desired. When I received approval for my appearance, I felt elated. When it was criticised or met with indifference, I was crushed. My wellbeing appeared to lie in the hands of other people. It was a precarious existence. 

But what if we were onto something as young children? What if our job in life is not to improve our own worth? What if we can neither increase nor decrease our value through our efforts? So often it looks like it’s hard work that produces results that make us worthy of love. We do things for people that they find useful, and so they like us. We lose weight, and then we get compliments, or people want to have sex with us. But approval is not the same as love, and relationships that are purely transactional are not satisfying, and keep us searching for the next fix to quiet our restless minds.

What makes someone truly valuable to others? Products can be rated for their utility. But people defy such neat assessments. After all, we often find ourselves adoring people who don’t do what we want, and frequently drive us mad! It is hard to put into words that which we can’t see with our eyes. We can hint at it through poetry, art or music, yet it remains elusive. Nevertheless, I think some reflection is worthwhile. Take a little time to ask yourself: what do you truly value about the people you love? Don’t just think about what they may do that’s useful to you in terms of meeting practical needs. Those things may be important, but they aren’t what makes life worth living. It is the spirit of kindness behind those actions that is what is truly valuable. 

Our culture has become unduly preoccupied with what we can see and measure. And it’s so easy to be carried along with the tide, only skimming the surface of life. But we must be courageous, and refuse to swim in shallow waters. You are not a product. You are pulsing with the energy of life. You have the ability to inspire, reassure, soothe, support, encourage and uplift the people you interact with simply by being who you are. You can change the world with a word or a smile. You co-create the world with the rest of humankind every day. Although we may seem insignificant as individuals, we are each playing our part in making the world what it is. The degree to which your appearance conforms to some arbitrary standards does not impact your capacity to enrich the lives of others. 

Yes, we all have the potential for fear, hate and judgment, but those are not the aspects of our nature that make life worth living. Our value lies in our unique manifestation of love. It is immeasurable, and its full extent is unknowable. There is no price tag. You do not need to compete for a place in the hearts of others. You are entitled to revel in the majestic love that is your essence untarnished by the burden of fear. You are a wondrous mystery who defies evaluation. Your value is secure beyond anyone’s opinion of you, including your own.


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