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Feeling Useless

Posted on by arlen

At my father-in-law’s for his 90th birthday bash, but with my left hand rendered inoperable by my table saw and my right side impaired by a strained neck muscle, I got to feeling mighty useless. And that, in turn got me thinking in general about the question of the value of a man.

I’m not sure when it started, but here in the US we’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for the old utilitarian definition of value. Your worth is what you do. A person’s value is directly related to what they do and have done.

Don’t believe me? Try this sinmple test: Ask anyone what they do (ask yourself, even). It’s nearly certain the response will be phrased “I *am* a(n) blank” with the blank replaced by the name of an occupation. In other words, they are defining themselves by their occupation.

That’s the trap we’ve all fallen into. It’s not scriptural, it’s not Christian. In fact it’s as far away from the Christian point of view on the subject as one can get. But it’s still a prevalent thought pattern. One that we need to break.

I am *not* a web developer, I *do* web development. I am *not* a writer, I write. The man who makes shoes for a living is *not* a shoemaker. He makes shoes. Shoemaking is what he *does*, not what he *is*.

As long as we continue to see each other in these utilitarian terms, however, we’re prevented from seeing each other as God wants us to, as unique creations with intrinsic value. As long as we see ourselves in this distorted mirror we can never become what it is God wants us to become.

I *am* a unique creation of the all-powerful creator of the known and unknown universe. So are you. We are both here because that all-powerful creator wanted us to be here. He (I’m using the traditional gender pronoun, but God is so far beyond any petty definition of gender that the term is really used only because that’s the metaphor He chose to relate to us through, and we should not be confused enough to apply limitations from the pronoun to the Person Himself) had a reason, known to Himself,for our existence. We are valued by Him enough for Him to cause us to be, so we really should respect that decision, and God Himself, enough to extend courtesy and respect to each other by default, not as some supposedly precious gift that only should be bestowed rarely, but as the natural right belonging to every unique creation of the Creator.

We’ve lost our way, and we need to find it again. We need to realize that simply by existing we are valuable. That person you disagree with so vehemently is still a person, and hence valuable. They are not obstacles to be overcome or tools to be used; they are people. The convict, the preacher, the flim-flam man, the congressman, the carpenter, the shoemaker, the vagrant; all are unique creations and therefore valuable in and of themselves.

This is a view at once inconvenient and necessary. Inconvenient because it reminds us directly that we ourselves are not the center of the universe, that there are other people who are affected by our actions and therefore who need to be considered before we take action. Necessary, because only when we truly accept this can we ever sit down and deal with others with courtesy and respect. And it’s only through courtesy and respect that we can reach the accomodations we must make with each other in order to keep this world from becoming the land of the eyeless and toothless. We have to get along while we’re down here on the planet, and that’s the only way we can acheve that.

I know I’m guilty of failing to do this. I know I have work to do. Join me?

One Response to Feeling Useless

  1. I read this post back when it was first posted, and thought I should comment, but I cannot improve upon it. It’s beautifully written. 😀

    I hadn’t ever thought about the “I am [job]” syntax before, but I have often objected to defining people by the work they do. I have been admired for work I’ve done and been held in total comtempt for that exact same job. The difference: one group of people thought what I was doing was very valuable and another thought I was “wasting my life”. I hardly ever ask people “what do you do?” because I don’t want them to talk about work; I want to talk to them about their interests and activities, their thoughts and opinions.

    I would like to think that as a society we’re moving away from defining people by their jobs. It’s dangerous for people’s self-image and self-worth to be bound up in a job—a job they may not like, not be well-paid for, a job working for other people’s goals, a job that they may be laid off from at any time. Some people have jobs that are valuable by pretty much anyone’s definition, jobs that they love and that are *in part* a reflection of who they are, but these kinds of valuable, fulfilling jobs are not the norm. I think this is reflected by the fact that (it seems to me) fewer and fewer people ask the “what do you do” question when they meet someone new. People who don’t wish to be defined by their job are less likely to evaluate others by that criteria.

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May 2006
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