Welcome to Part IV in a series about vulnerability, based on Brené Brown’s studies of vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. I encourage you to also listen to an interview Ms. Brown gave with Krista Tippet.
I was having lunch with a friend the other day who questioned whether she was currently contributing anything to the world. She, I’ll call her Felicity, has been a passionate pusher of joy for many years and, until recently, owned a car painted with colorful polkadots and fitted at the back with a bubble-maker. Occasionally she would drive it around town or in parades, leaving behind a trail of iridescent soap bubbles wherever she went. Joy Car, she called it.
Felicity is gifted with the ability to help others heal emotionally and spiritually. She used to write prolifically on the topic, providing techniques that anyone can use to tap their innate powers to reach their full potential. In her 70s, and coping with a few health issues, she now wonders about her role in the world. For a long time she hasn’t been inspired to write; people have not been seeking her services. What is she supposed to be doing with the rest of her life?
Like me, Felicity is a creative with a strong desire to contribute something meaningful to humanity. While all people have the need to feel valued, creatives feel it more acutely in that we equate self-worth with how widely distributed our creations are or what people are willing to pay for them.
Brené Brown says our society tends to measure self-worth through productivity; exhaustion has become a status symbol, she says. The more harried we look and feel, the more productive we must be, thus the more worthy. But productivity is no measure at all of our value as human beings. For one thing, by whose standard is output deemed “productive”? Our very existence is proof enough of our self-worth. I am, therefore I am worthy.
I believe all people have value because the Creator intended it so through the very act of creation. You creatives out there, don’t you create because you feel you have something of value to share? If we have no value, then why were we born? I’m going to crack the lid on a carton of annelids here and say that because all lives have value, then logically even people possessed by evil have value. How so? Firstly, they weren’t born evil. Through experience, circumstance, and choice—conscious or not—they’ve just seriously lost their way. Secondly, they are reminders of what we don’t want to succumb to, what can happen when we stop valuing life. They might even inspire us to be better people by forcing us to look more closely at what we value ourselves. There is no defense for evil, but if we try to understand what possesses people to go over to the dark side, we may be able to turn things around. Look at what you get when you read the letters e-v-i-l backwards.
I’m willing to bet that most crises of the soul, mind, and heart are rooted in self-worth. So would fully acknowledging our self-worth mean the end of suffering, crises, and broken hearts? Sorry, my hopeful friends, we can’t duck the human experience; however, we could better cope with these unpleasant necessaries, process them more quickly, and experience greater peace of mind. Say we lived as if we were inherently worthy, we might begin to practice better habits; take better care of ourselves, those we love, and the planet; and act with greater compassion and understanding.
We all share Felicity’s momentary lapse in understanding of her inherent self-worth. Every once in a while I take my own worth out for a temporary wallow in self-doubt. Sadly for some, though, the doubt is not temporary. Why, oh why, do we assume that just because we don’t see results, we must be ineffective? Or just because we’re not producing volumes of output, we’re lacking in some way? (If you have answers, leave them in the comments!)
If we think of it like in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we can imagine affecting peoples’ lives in ways unknown to us—for better or worse. Though we may never know the effects of our actions, guaranteed they have an effect. As I said to Felicity, you may doubt your usefulness now, question your worth, but even the simple act of smiling at a cashier at the store spreads goodwill. We can’t get too much of that.
Once while driving Joy Car, Felicity stopped at a traffic light next to a family sitting in their car, glum expressions all around. Felicity hit the switch on her bubble-maker then beeped to get their attention. First, one head turned, then a smile grew, then a finger pointed. Soon all heads in all the surrounding cars were turned, all smiles, laughing, pointing. Her face lights up whenever she tells the story (I’ve heard it a dozen times), and it’s clear with each telling that she knows the significance of that moment, however simple. I imagine others who’ve encountered Joy Car also tell people about the crazy polka-dotted hatchback they once saw spewing bubbles and how it made them smile or even laugh.
We are our Creator’s Beloved. If that isn’t enough to make you feel worthy, recall your own Joy Car moment, a time you did something that made a person’s day, however simple. Then recount that story over and over again and wallow in your worthiness.
Next time we’ll circle back to vulnerability.