I’ve been housing two incompatible worldviews and I didn’t even know it until someone got a little too friendly with my wife.
You’re enough! You don’t need to change a thing! You don’t any apologies for being yourself. You’re beautiful the way you are. You just need to be yourself because the world needs more of you! Nothing you could do could make you more valuable than you already are. Your voice is important and there is no better you than the you that you are. You are worthy. You are doing your best and you are infinitely valuable in your present form.
There’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark
You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are
And you don’t have to change a thing
The world could change its heart
I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And when I don’t belong, You say I am Yours, and I believe
From Sara Bareilles’s “Brave”…
You can be the outcast or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do when they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight…sometimes a shadow wins.
But say what you wanna say and let the words fall out
I wanna see you be brave
I still believe this worldview.
You’re not enough. You need to change many things. You’re a bloody mess. You’re not doing your best, and you know it. You owe it to yourself, to those you love, and to the world around you to aim a little higher; maybe a lot higher! Maybe you’re not aiming at all. And that’s no surprise either. You’ve likely failed so many times you wonder, “What’s the point in trying?” You’ve hurt a lot of people and owe a lot of apologies.
You feel like life is unfair, but it hasn’t singled you out for torture like you feel. A lot of your suffering is your own damn fault. You haven’t been underappreciated. You’ve underperformed. You could have done better. You’re not worthy…not of a pay raise – you’re earning about right for the value you provide. You’re not worthy of trust – not any more than you’ve earned and proven over time. You’re not worthy of more respect. In fact, there are at least a few despicable things you’ve done (and do) that you’re hoping no one will ever find out about.
There are things around you – easy things – that you’ve given up on. Things on your to do list – or that used to be on your to do list – that would take you less than a day to conquer, but they’ve been there so long that they’re just a part of the permanent furnishings a life full of unfulfilled promises to yourself and others.
You know others are disappointed in you, but they’re only half as disappointed as you are, and that’s no surprise either. You’re still fighting the same weight problems that you’ve hated about yourself for how long now? And that could mostly be solved by just not eating so much! And that’s just one example of your self-destructive tendencies. Not only are you not accomplishing your goals, you refuse to stop actively making your life weightier, literally and metaphorically.
Your destiny lies in your hands. Who knows what you could become if you were a little clearer in your aim and little more purposeful in your pursuit!? Whatever you became it would almost surely be better than what you are.
This will be so hard to hear
You think you carry such a weight
Better start acting like this here’s a race
You ain’t gone far enough to say, “At least I’ve tried.”
You ain’t worked hard enough to say, “Well I’ve done mine.”
You ain’t run far enough to say, “My legs have failed.”
You ain’t run far enough to say, “Ain’t gonna get any better.”
From Incubus’s “Drive”…
Sometimes I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear
And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear take the wheel and steerIt’s driven me before and seems to have a vague haunting mass appeal
But lately I’m beginning to find that I should be the one behind the wheelWhatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes
I still believe this worldview.
The Conflict Revealed
My wife and I had been going through a tough time and our therapist had recently put a great deal of relational responsibility on Wendy’s shoulders this time. (Of course, I have plenty of turns in this role at other times.) I was rooting for her to push through the difficulty and do her work…for my sake, sure; but more so for our sake, and for her own sake. Each of our growth helps us both.
As she was relaying some frustration to one of her friends, I overheard the friend’s response, “That sounds hard, but you’re enough just the way you are!”
I don’t like admitting this, but my instant reflex was a [fortunately silent], “Hell no!” That’s the opposite of the message I want her to hear!
I mean, that’s exactly what I’d tell my friends or my kids, but this family unit needs my wife to fully experience this discomfort and not be encouraged into apathy. Don’t tell the fighter they’ve thrown enough punches; don’t tell the soldier their last 100 bullets were enough; don’t tell the mother she can stop providing food, nor tell the raging child that they’ve shown enough restraint with their sibling.
And don’t tell my wife that she’s enough! We’re in a marital crisis and, whether you intend to or not, you’re friendly-ing her toward an unnecessary breakup with her husband! No! Go another round! Keep trying! It’s not enough until you’ve won!
Then again, I was also jealous that my wife’s friend got to be the good guy by being an anything-but-good-guy. I’d like to think I’m as nice to my wife as anyone else is, and that I treat her better than the rest of the world. But now I’m the jerk because I’m the one rooting for her to have a happy marriage…!?
Fortunately, I was quick to recognize the friend’s words, as they have frequently come from my own mouth about my friends and myself. She was stating worldview #1 when I was hoping Wendy was deep into worldview #2. Which was right? Was there a way to resolve them both into a third, more comprehensive worldview? I needed a melting pot for several conflicting ideas:
- Jamin treats his wife exceptionally
- Jamin is opposed to some positive messages about his wife
- Each person is perfect the way they are
- Each person has a responsibility to strive
The Conflict Resolved
I had to rework both worldviews a bit, but in the end, I resolved that worldview #1 speaks to a person’s value. Worldview #2 speaks to a person’s utility.
In the yin/yang dichotomy, worldview #1 is the maternal soothing amidst chaos; worldview #2 is the equally necessary, masculine call to aim higher and create the beauty of order.
Value-wise, you don’t need to change a thing; nothing you could do could possibly increase or decrease your value. But, assuming that a person has inexhaustible untapped potential, every person at every point in their lives could be doing better; adding more value to the world; being an even more developed version of themselves.
- You are infinitely valuable just the way you are, and you’re also a bloody catastrophe compared to what you could be.
- There is no better you than the you that you are, unless you count the you that you could be in the future.
- The world needs more of you, but they’ll be better off with an even more potent, more mature, more refined “you”.
Much to my past confusion, “respect” is one of those words that means different things in the different worldviews. I deserve “respect” as a person, meaning there is no one who ranks higher than I do in innate worthiness. But no one has to look at a mess in my life and be forced to “respect” it in terms of praising it, holding it as a standard, or equivocating it with competence.
Many other words are equally true and untrue, depending on which worldview is being used:
- Owe an apology
“Worthy” is another one of those dually-defined words. This is where divorcees (and divorcees-in-training) get horrible advice from their friends who say, “You’re worth more than that!” Probably not, actually. It depends on how you mean “worth”.
You are worthy. But worthy of what?
- Worthy of a pay raise? No. Not until you’ve provided enough monetary value to the company to justify it.
- Worthy of trust? No. Not until you’ve earned it.
- Worthy of respect? No. Not unless you’ve made respectable decisions.
- Worthy of inclusion? No. Not if you play in violation of the community rules.
- Worthy of a better relationship? No. Not if you’re relating as unproductively as your partner. You got together for a reason. If you haven’t seriously leveled up since then, there’s no reason to believe you’ll legitimately be able to hook someone more upstanding than last time. And if you could, what does that say about commitment if everyone leaves a relationship as soon as they’ve leveled up faster than their partner? Your only hope of a long-lasting relationship would be to only partner with losers who don’t improve as fast as you, so you outgrow them before they outgrow you. And what kind of a prospect is that for your future or any offspring?
- Worthy of love? Yes! But in this case, “inherent worth” and “practical value” are not the same thing.
Your value is equal to your utility; your competence in helping the group achieve its goal. Your diamond ring may be “worth” a lot, but it has no value on a deserted island. Proclaiming how much it is “worth” still doesn’t make it tradable for a meal. You’re right, but no one cares. That’s not the value game they’re playing.
You can be infinitely valuable and still be less than worthless in a community or relationship. This is why I can’t play in the NFL. I am not less valuable than Lawrence Taylor as a human, but I am less than worthless as a linebacker for the New York Giants.
But just because I can’t help them achieve their goal doesn’t mean that I am not equally valuable toward some other goal. So No group can take a look at their set of goals and then say to me, “Because you are not a great utility toward our ends, you serve no purpose towards any end.”
Everyone is equally, infinitely valuable as a human, and therefore, worthy of love as a baseline value. That doesn’t mean I can demand the version of it that I want, any more than everyone else can demand that I provide the kind and level of love they are worth. And that also doesn’t mean I “deserve better” or that I am “worth more than that,” as a blanket statement.
In the Christian world I come from, we have this phrase, “Love the sinner, not the sin.” It is supposed to carry a similar idea, but it’s usually used the same way your racist uncle says he loves “the negros.” They don’t understand how deeply prejudicial they are. Intellectually, they agree those people are valuable, but practically, they’re going to keep their distance. (This is beautifully depicted in Flannery O’Connor’s “Revelation“.)
Technically the phrase is theologically sound. But it usually gets used to excuse demeaning a person without the religious guilt. When shame, disdain, and condescension are aimed at a person, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether they’re aimed at the sinner or the sin.
This Is Me
Each morning during my shower I listen to “This Is Me” from the Greatest Showman soundtrack. It’s a super image-positive message about learning to accept yourself, despite ridicule from the world. From worldview #1, I’m still totally on board with this message: “You don’t get to devalue me just because I’m different or screwed up or have a messy past. I’m doing my best and I’m just as deserving of love as anyone else!”
I get to stand up for myself at least as fiercely as I would stand up for any of my friends or pets. I should not be proud of my actual flaws, but regardless of my flaws, I deserve a humane respect. In Biblical terms, I should love myself as my neighbor.
This message goes too far when it not only demands humane love, but forces a normalization of personal preferences or a denial of outliers. When it takes pride in flaws, flaunts failure, and demands that mistakes are praised: “This is me! Take it! All of it! Praise it! Say it’s normal! No…say it’s better! No…say it is the best!”
“It” is really just different. It’s kinda weird. And sure – we’re all kinda weird. We’re equally valuable, but some of the things you’re proud to be are the opposite of what I’m trying to be. I don’t have to pretend like I wish I was aiming at what you are, and I don’t have to say you’ve hit your mark when you obviously haven’t. If we are going to admit there is any value in aiming, we are going to have to admit that hitting the target is rare and difficult. We cannot pretend that every arrows flies perfectly, or else what’s the point at ever trying at anything?
The Little Engine That Wasn’t an Engine
Perhaps you can help me find an analogy here. They’re all falling short for me.
For example, you are not a “diamond in the rough.” A diamond’s actual value can be increased by its cutting. A diamond also has no utility except existence. It’s arguably beautiful, but not without lots of precision work and its true value is because it’s an artificially rare commodity. Even then, if diamonds were cheap, we’d all probably realize there are a whole lot of stones more beautiful than diamonds, and tons of imposters more dazzling.
Some people like the diamond analogy because, “Its flaws are what make it beautiful!” Then why is a “flawless diamond” a desirable thing? Plus, we humans are not valuable because of our flaws! We might be unique in our special combinations of flaws, but our value is innate long before any flaws are piled on. They don’t affect the value, which means they don’t raise the value either.
In the perfect analogy, the complete potential value is already infinitely large, but it just hasn’t yet realized it’s full utility, because of its misuse and misidentification. It has the potential to bring goodness and light to others, raising them out of darkness and all sorts of poverty. So its power to do so continually increases as it gets used in new ways and its functions are discovered.
It’s a horribly-designed dumbbell that accidentally realizes it’s actually a pretty great hammer, that accidentally realizes it should stop hammering because it’s actually a massive phone charger, that accidentally realizes the phone charger is just a side feature because it’s really an electric typewriter, that later realizes word processing comes so naturally because it’s really a supercomputer, that realizes it’s been lugging around a greater dormant value because it’s actually a computerized vehicle, that realizes not only can it drive on the ground, but it can fly because it’s really an airplane, that realizes if it pushes hard, it can escape the atmosphere because it’s actually a spaceship, that realizes it’s saving humanity by transporting them to a safer planet.
It was the same thing all along, but it was limited by a bad definition and low expectations. The more it learned about itself, the more it changed what it aimed to do, and the more value it saw in itself. If, at any point, it had determined that it had finally become what it was intended to be, it might live out its days as the best of its kind; the quintessential example of the genre, but still missing its full potential.
That’s a terrible analogy. It’s not even an analogy, it’s a story; and not a very good one at that. Help me do better.
In the end, I personally need the drive of both messages. Worldview #3 starts with a strong worldview #1:
I am fully valuable, not in the way your racist uncle or botoxed pastor’s wife means it, but actually fully worthy of love…just the way I am. I’m not a mistake. I am deeply beautiful.
This is deeply freeing, because no matter how badly I screw up my attempts in worldview #2, my value from worldview #1 will never decrease. I will not become less acceptable. I cannot become unlovable or worthy of condescension nor disgust.
Worldview #3 uses the freedom of worldview #1, not as fuel for apathy or entitlement or an angry imposition of my style on someone else’s life, but as a motivation for the development demanded in worldview #2: The more layers of ineptitude and bad habits and insecurity I remove…and the more I polish what is inside with training and competence and hard work and accomplishment and development, the more that deep beauty is revealed.
Worldview #3 says, “I am free to try in the face of potential failure, to hope in the face of hopelessness, to aim though I am yet nearly blind. I get a shot, and my lovability is not on the line.”
I’m open to reworking the worldview again. What would you suggest?