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On Usefulness: Underneath It All, We Want to Be of Worth

On Usefulness: Underneath It All, We Want to be of WorthWhat’s it worth? It’s a common question, perhaps a common-place one. We ask what a potential purchase is worth, what an object of perceived value is worth, and if we are ill then we often ask what an event is worth in terms of the time and energy we will spend there. It’s a fair question: is it good enough to justify what I am giving? Does it have a value equal to that which you gave?

But when did we begin asking what humans were worth? I mean, darling just look at you…

You are worth everything. EVERYTHING. (Click to Tweet!)

The problem as I see it, is this: we have been seduced into thinking worth is measured by doing. Or rather, worth is defined by output. So a person who is able to produce and put out a large amount of work is ‘worth’ the resources they use to keep them alive while they produce that work.

This becomes even more complicated when we add in disability. Because then we pull in the rhetoric of politicians talking about the ‘benefits deficit’, the budget, and basically what it’s costing the country to keep you and me alive. And it seems like the government wants a good return on it’s investment. That if it’s paying for hospitals, wheelchairs, district nurses and careers benefits, then it wants us to strive hard to ‘get better’ (even though ‘getting better’ is a relative term),  for us to be a ‘brave cripple trope‘ or ‘inspirationally disadvantaged.’ But still, y’know, just so full of pluck and vigour it warms the heart of all who see us!

However, we didn’t agree to this deal. And human worth cannot be measured in earnings, output or these limited definitions of usefulness.

There is a medical and mechanical model of disability. In the mechanical view the body is seen mostly as a machine which has broken down and cannot be fixed. The disability is seen as the disabled person’s problem or fault and any adaptions as a personal adjustment, rather than as part of making the world accessible and fair for all.

When you think about worth, how do you see yourself?

Do you think of your worth as linked to your work? Are there days you are able to ‘do’  lots, or ‘better’ days because you are more useful?

Words like being a ‘burden’ or a ‘drain’ get thrown about, it’s a great fear. How deep does it go? Do we worry on a survival level that our tribe won’t want to care for and keep us if we can’t give in some way?

What is useful? We tend to define usefulness by what it produces. A country’s worth is defined by what it produces, the Gross Domestic Product or Gross National Product. Yet there are some interesting side effects to this way of thinking:

“Every time someone gets cancer, the GDP goes up.  Every time an infant dies, the GDP rises. A drive-by shooting improves the economy by $20,750. If the victim dies, and there is a murder trial, the benefit to the economy leaps to well over $100,000. An oil tanker spill can contribute between five and twenty million dollars of “growth”; the benefits of an airline crash or terrorist bombing can be far greater…In short, we have converted destruction into an economic good. But anything that grows without money changing hands — parents who care for their children, people who voluntarily care for the sick, the dying, or the homeless, people who pray or meditate or walk in the woods — these at best have no value. At worst, they take away precious time and energy that could be used to grow the GDP.” – Wayne Muller, Sabbath

Yet a woman who wakes up, says a prayer, smiles at her loved ones, later gets out of bed and makes breakfast without hurting anyone or anything…if she sits in the garden in the afternoon, listening to the birds, rests and plants some flowers…then perhaps listens to the radio, writes a letter and speaks to a friend, takes in a parcel for a neighbour and hugs her dogs for an hour… she may not be considered to be ‘producing’ but what a wonderful life she is leading, hurting no one and giving love.

I believe in the right to be a human being not a human doing. That I get space on this planet by being here, and I don’t need to rush/prove/busy myself to be worthy of the resources my existence uses.

If I didn’t believe that, how could I cope with being bed bound? And not ‘working’ for many years?

I live knowing that I can touch lives and make beauty simply by being – living my life with compassion, moving with grace, speaking with kindness, practicing my ethical choices, being a good friend, growing a garden. All the things I do naturally because I am moved to are more than enough.

In contrast when I begin my day and life from a place of ‘not enough’ I am always rushing to catch up with myself in a race I can never win. Joyful moments aren’t embraced as I’m always looking for the next task, the next thing I must do in the race to be enough.

I embrace my worthiness each day with kindness and self-compassion. I invite you to do the same.

Image courtesy of Lara Cores.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Grace Quantock October 15, 2014, 6:08 am

    Thanks again for your comment Sheila. I really agree, the pressure can totally lead people into unkindness and stress. But there is so much good in all we are, besides all we do. Wishing you good days and good things xx

  • Grace Quantock October 15, 2014, 6:07 am

    Thanks so much Devi, I really hear you on this point – we can underestimate the value of what we do if it’s not financial, but just as you say, what you’ve been working on has such value far beyond money! With all love xx

  • Devi October 10, 2014, 11:26 am

    Grace, I love this article. I have spent the last year working hard but generating little income, and worrying about that. But the things I am doing have value in their own right. Thank you for the reminder. Just what I needed.

  • Sheila Bergquist October 9, 2014, 7:01 am

    What a great post and such an important point. We live in a world that makes us feel like we have to do, do, do all the time or we aren’t successful. It has also lead, in my opinion, to people being stressed out and unkind. When you have a condition that makes it impossible to do this, it can make you feel so many negative things. Thanks for bringing this up and showing us a different side to look at.

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