“People have a need for meaning and for belonging,” Dr. Gabor Maté writes. “But this society defines the value of a human being by how much they can either produce or consume. For all our talk about human values, we don’t really value humans for who they are. We value them for what they either give or purchase.”
I’ve been thinking about Maté’s quote a lot lately. In my post last week, “We Can Do Better than This,” I mentioned one of the plights of capitalism: homelessness. The underlying sentiment is if a person is poor, or mentally ill, or physically incapacitated, or old, they have no value. They can neither produce or consume anything so they are shunted off to the side where we don’t have to think about them. However, I would like to point out it’s not only certain segments of society who are harmed by the notion of what is valuable, it’s all of us.
On Tuesday, my dear friend Amal called me up and asked if I’d like to go to the Chapel of the Chimes, which is a crematory and columbarium. Afterward, we walked through the adjacent cemetery and watched the sunset. Seeing the sun set over the bay, I felt like crying because this, this, is what life is really about – not checking off my to-do list, not producing content, not building up my following on social media.
In our materialistic society, I absolutely define my value by what I’m producing and I know businesses define my value by how much I’m able to consume. That means if I don’t produce something every single day, my perceived self-worth diminishes. Heaven forbid I take a rest day! That’s also why my health condition, maladaptive stress syndrome, is so freaking challenging: I’m tired all the time. I need more rest than the average person, but that also means I can’t do as much as the average person. And because I can’t do as much, produce as much, my self-worth goes in the toilet.
I have to remind myself over and over what my life is really about, which is to achieve a divine union, and that’s not dependent on how much money is in my bank account or how many followers I have on instagram. Furthermore, my spiritual teacher says, “The Milky Way is vast from one end to the other; an ant is a very small creature, but the role of both of them in maintaining the balance of the universe is equal. If one ant meets a premature death, it will disturb the balance of the entire cosmos. Therefore, nothing here is unimportant, not even an ant.”
That means I’m important, you’re important, we’re important even if we never win a Nobel prize or an Oscar, because our worth is not inherent on what we’re doing. I could lie in bed all day every day and be just as important as a school teacher. I have to tell you I have so much resistance to saying that, but I’d really like to believe it’s true. If the Milky Way is just as important as an ant, how could it not be?
I dream of a world where we recognize our inherent value and worth as precious human beings. A world where we realize we matter just because we are alive. A world where we remember we are blessed children of the universe, no less and no more important than anyone else. A world where we remember who we really are.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.