Most of us are taught, from a very early age, that the true value of things is how they perform.
We quickly conclude this about ourselves too.
We equate ourselves with our exam results, comparing ourselves with others, with what we thought we should get, or with what other people told us we should get. And we experience the crushing disappointment of being a failure or the inflation of being a success based on this.
Or we take ourselves to be the number of friends we have (more popular = better kind of person).
Later on we think we’re our salary, or the size of our house, our reputation, or the performance grade given to us by a manager. Why else would we feel so inadequate or jealous when we see people with more money, recognition, status? And so self-satisfied when we come across people with less?
And as a result of this we not only see our own value as that of our performance, but other people’s too. It turns us all into objects.
All of this brings us many difficulties:
We live a life of constant inner and outer comparison, swinging from deflation to grandiosity and back again as we encounter other people.
We conclude that we are at fault. If only we were better, we’d have more of whatever it is that we’re measuring ourselves against.
We’re distanced from others by our fear and judgement and endless comparing.
We withhold our contribution because we’re so fixated on (1) doing what will turn out well and (2) doing what will give us the (self) esteem we crave. Whole categories of meaningful, contributory, connecting activity become unavailable to us. Listening deeply (which might show us what we fear about ourselves) and saying what’s true (which might make us unpopular) are both immediate casualties.
We fuel our busyness, mistakenly believing that all this will be resolved if we can simply do more.
We eat away at our own sense of meaning and possibility, and we constrain it in others.
There is an antidote to all this, desperately unpopular in the world that our performance anxiety brings about. And it is this:
People (every one, including you) are intrinsically of value. And not just a little value, either, but infinite value. Regardless of exam results, regardless of house, regardless of salary or status or reputation or style or coolness or performance grade or job title.
This is not a popular position to take in our cynical, world-weary, frightened, acquisitive times.
When we start to see others as of infinite value we we’re able to listen to them, support them and for the first time, trust them, so they can bring their own contribution.
And when we start to see ourselves this way we open astonishing possibilities for acting and contributing, free of the constraints and resentment that our constant self-assessment brings about.