Measuring Our Worth

Extreme poverty in Rand, WV, USA in 1973. Roads were unpaved and housing was substandard. Source: Environmental Protection Agency Archives
Extreme poverty in Rand, WV, USA in 1973.
Roads were unpaved and housing was substandard.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency Archives

If I had to distill the essence of our social and political discourse as a nation and a global community right now into just a few words, I would say that the biggest source of all our divisions and quarrels lies in the measuring of our worth compared with others. Now, what do I mean by that?

In theory, our disagreements are about concrete things like economic policy, social policy, budgets, and the firm belief that there just isn’t enough money to go around, and some people are going to have to suffer to make up for it. The question at the core of the fighting is, “Who must suffer?”

It is a hard thing to condemn another to suffering, so it is human nature to make excuses for it in order to lessen the psychic burden of the person who is doling out the suffering. This feat of mental gymnastics is accomplished by simple rationalization:  the person who suffers must somehow deserve it because they are morally deficient, lazy, subhuman, or they simply “screwed up” somehow. When these ideas are born, compassion dies. And therein lies the root of every problem.

There is no question that sometimes people make poor choices, even harmful choices for themselves or others. It is true that some people may try to find an “easy” way to get by—which is quite the judgment, actually. A person who scams government benefits may “win” $200 a month in grocery money and a few hundred a month in other assistance, but is this really easy? Ask anyone in poor circumstances, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to live on such a meager income. If that’s “the good life,” then I wouldn’t want it. No, anyone who would work so hard for so little deserves my compassion for having set the bar so low for themselves.

In our modern money-centric society, we now measure everything by its perceived monetary value. If the “cost” of fundamental services (such as education, healthcare, road maintenance, etc.) is too high, then we’ll just have to cut back and “live within our means.” Abundance, however, is a river that flows in whatever direction you focus on. If you are generous with it, it is generous with you. If you are stingy with it, it is stingy with you. This is true for individuals and society as a whole. If we tighten our belts too much, we will no longer be able to breathe.

On a personal level, regardless of our political beliefs, we are accustomed to comparing our worth with the worth of others. If someone gets “more,” we take it personally, as a reflection on ourselves. If someone gets “less,” there is always the nagging belief deep down that maybe they deserve it, which makes us feel better because being better off makes us less “bad” or “wrong” than they are.

Everything is measured in dollars and bling, and now our self-esteem is, too. Our worst fears seem to be that someone else may get “more” than what we have without “deserving” it. Of course, what we’re really afraid of is that we don’t deserve it.

But of course, you do deserve to be abundant. So does your neighbor. So do the mentally ill. So does the guy down the street who’s getting public assistance, or the woman who’s sleeping in doorways. The key to everyone’s abundance lies in our compassion and willingness to share in it. You must give, without judging whether someone “deserves it” or not; likewise, you must receive, without judging yourself and understanding that you also deserve it as much as anyone else.

Imagine for a moment that Jesus stood on the beach, surrounded by thousands who came to hear him and learn from him. He passed his hand over the baskets, and as the loaves and fishes began to flow, he said, “I will give a loaf of bread and a fish to every person who can prove to me that they deserve to have it. The rest of you will have to fend for yourselves!” No compassionate being would say such a thing, and whatever happened on that day, Jesus didn’t either, or we wouldn’t know who he is today. When he offered compassion and unconditional love, it was for everyone, no matter who they were or what they had done or thought or believed. This is the definition of unconditional love. If you want to follow his path or any other enlightened path, then know that there is no such thing as a “measure of worth.” We are all worthy. We are all deserving. We are all One being, the Great I AM, and there can be no greater or lesser here. When we come to know this, we will know peace and true abundance for all.

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