A recent conversation has me pondering. This is usually cause for the people nearest me to flee the room or at the very least duck. But since this is in (virtual) print, you can decide now whether or not this post is a danger to you.
Really, I just lied to you. It wasn’t the whole conversation that set me thinking about this idea. It was more a statement within the conversation. Or, more specifically, it was a part of a comment within a particularly important part of the conversation. But here I am, the next day, still turning it over in my mind.
So, in lieu of therapy that would cost a lot more and require an appointment with a counselor, I’ll work through this here: Are we all destined to matter?
As you can see, I like small issues easily settled in less than a thousand words.
The knee-jerker in me leaps to yes. Or leaped. Leapt?
The (apparently) easy answer is, of course, we all matter despite ourselves. That’s the Sunday school message and, if your theology or social understanding is western and affluent, it makes sense to you. We are the one lost sheep important enough for the other 99 to be left behind in order to find us. Ergo, we matter.
But the crack in that logic rides a fine line with what makes it true. We assume our worth is intrinsic so that every decision we choose to make has meaning, and yet, even in the safest, most affluent and “important” country in the world, so many of us struggle with a deep sense of just how utterly unchanged the world would be without us. That nothing we do makes a difference. Simply, that we don’t matter.
And that’s here. What about the billion and a half people in the world so poor they are virtually invisible to those of us affluent enough to have the time to ruminate on our relative worth? The children who die of hunger rather than struggle with childhood obesity? Those defined as elderly when they reach their late forties? Those who die of diseases almost non-existent in places where vaccines are stockpiled?
Before I slip into a treatise on economic inequality, let me return to the original question: does everyone matter?
Not if they’re never shown they do. And to help people see their value, those of us who were born into “mattering” need to recalibrate our understanding of success. Success is never a grand gesture. It’s never a lottery ticket. It’s never going to leave us saying “I love it when a plan comes together.”
In fact, success is almost never something we can claim credit for. And if it’s really success, we won’t want to. It won’t make us feel worth more. It will more likely underscore just how little we matter. It will leave us discontent rather than fulfilled because it will feel small.
Success can’t pay or it becomes gain. And gain is something even in these economically challenging times we need less of. Especially in these economically challenging times. Success is giving and loss and dirty and quite likely painful in the process of achieving.
But if one wants to matter – and in this way everyone absolutely can matter – success must be measured in what’s given up, not what is acquired.
Michael Dean Clark is on vacation. When vacation ends, he will not be on it anymore. He will most likely be saddened by that. But his new job is near the beach, so he probably won’t remain sad. Currently, he is reading submissions for Relief 4.2 and prepping for the damage he is about to inflict on his students in the fall.