Sunday, October 30, 2011

Worth

Do you think every human being has intrinsic worth? If so, why? If not, what do you think determines value? And do you believe every human being has equal worth? Does belief or disbelief in God necessarily determine the answer to this question?

In a group counseling class I teach, one student played the Katy Perry song, "Firework" and illustrated how she would use it to generate discussion about self worth in a group with teens. Here are the lyrics:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag,
drifting through the wind
wanting to start again?

Do you ever feel,
feel so paper thin
like a house of cards,
one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
6 feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time to let it through-ough-ough

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

Does this song have the ring of truth about it? Or does it give kids false hope and set up grandiose expectations, building their self esteem on nothing but empty promises? And if a self-doubting teen who had been dealt a pretty harsh hand in life asked you why she should believe anything this song had to say, what would you tell her? And how does this relate to what you believe gives you value?

4 comments:

  1. Do you think every human being has intrinsic worth?
    Well, every human may be a bit of a stretch, but on average, I think yes most people are valuable (or at least have the potential to be valuable), but no, that value is not equal (certain skills and natural abilities are more rare than others). As I see it, value (in the sense of self-worth) is intrinsically externally based (what you can do for other people, or in comparison to other people), and although it is a large factor in determining happiness in life it is not the only one (for example, you could live on a deserted island free of references for value and still be happy).

    Belief in God certainly influences the answer to such a question, but I does not absolutely determine it. The preaching that every life is sacred is a relatively recent thing.

    I think songs like that are mostly benign to somewhat beneficial. For most, it's a bit of lottery-ticket fantasy without the cost. For others, it is the little kick in the pants that will get them started on something new. For others, they may get dissatisfied in their attempts, but people are normally resilient. (At least that's my take, but I could be wrong.)

    But there will be a handful, like the self-doubting teen, which have special needs. Helping her find her inner firework will be a challenge. You can say what Ophelia said in Hamlet: "Lord we know what we are, but not what we may be." (or something like that). It may sound trite, but it comes down to finding the right thing which provides value. Perhaps the best way to go is by avoiding paths which require superlatives (superior skills, talents, etc.), and instead recommend things which anyone can generally do but still makes a difference, like volunteering some form of labor in a charity, but you're going to have to get to know the girl first before you point her in a direction.

    That's my $0.02. :-) I hope it's not too cryptic. I just didn't want to run out of characters.

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  2. Wise Fool,
    Thanks for your $.02. It would be interesting for me to look at the history of the teaching that every life is of worth. Believing that God created and cares for us gives a sense of worth that is independent on our abilities, relationship with others and guarantees that whether we're in a vegetative state or overcome by dementia or a small child left orphaned in a trash can, we still have a value despite having nothing to offer others. However, it's interesting because it still situates worth outside ourselves and makes it contingent on another's valuing of us. It sounds like you don't think people who have no utility to others have an internally based value, so how does that color your view of how they should be treated? And what type of person falls into this category? Interesting to think about.

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  3. It would be an interesting study! I suspect that the concept emerged and retreated several times in history, but didn't come to prominence until the 1900's, and probably limited to the latter half of that century. Doctrine principles like "the Elect" suggest a pre-destiny which is contrary to an every-life-worth philosophy. A concise piece of contrary scripture is in Romans 9, which is mostly a discussion about how only certain people are valuable. It is summed up in Romans 9:21 where it says God has the right to make people destined for either honor or dishonor. (Some interpretations use the less-harsh "common use" as opposed to dishonor, but "dishonor" is the most accurate translation of the word.)

    It sounds like you don't think people who have no utility to others have an internally based value, so how does that color your view of how they should be treated?
    It does not color my view of how people should be treated at all. I think the fair thing to do is assume that everyone has value, and therefore treat everyone with respect and dignity, and maybe even a little grace, until they prove themselves unworthy (perhaps like habitual criminals). While not immediately apparent, I think it is a natural conclusion to do so when you ponder:
    1) Someone who is of no value to me may be of value to someone else, and visa versa, and extended to myself.
    2) Someone who may not be of value to me now may be of value to me later, and visa versa, and extended to myself.
    3) Because we live in a networked society, someone who appears not to have value to me may in fact have value to me in an indirect manner.
    4) That's how I would like to be treated. :-)

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  4. DoOrDoNot,

    First, a belated congratulations on completing the Warrior Dash. That was very brave!

    I have to say that I have a problem with the pursuit of this kind of self-esteem:

    Baby, you're a firework
    Come on, let your colors burst
    Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
    You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe


    If we try too hard to impress other people, and we fail, our confidence and sense of well-being plummets. The implicit message is that our value is contingent on what we achieve or what others think of us. I don't think this is healthy.

    I think there is freedom in humility, or the ability to take the focus off ourselves and let others take center stage. When we realize that we are not the center of the universe, we give ourselves permission to risk failure, which is a prerequisite for success. And we can enjoy ourselves even if we don't leave everyone in awe, awe, awe, and when we do the opposite.

    The Bible says a fair amount about pride and humility, and so does Taoism, which says: "The truly wise are content to be last; they are therefore first. They are indifferent to themselves; they are therefore self-confident. Perhaps because they do not exist for themselves they find complete fulfillment." I think there is great truth in that.

    I do believe in the inherent God-given value of every human being, and I don't find it problematic that this value is contingent on another person (God) valuing us. If my worth is contingent on another human's opinion, then it rests on a shaky foundation because that opinion may change. However, God does not change.

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