Some years ago in the midst of a rather dark time, I found my perception of self worth markedly low. The usual methods of therapy—writing, meditation, exercise—were not working so I decided instead to ‘walk’ my thoughts to their shadowy destination on an extended bus and train trip. I figured if I simultaneously viewed the moving scenery outside my window, I would not feel so trapped with melancholy heaviness. With this in mind I settled onto the bus and started from the top, or bottom as it were, and began rationalizing the erroneous belief: I am unworthy.
I looked outside the window and asked: If I am unworthy, what of those people I see on the street? Have they worth and what is it? I continued with my questioning. What if one of those people were to die, what would be the result? Would someone miss them and, if so, is that the basis of their worth? Is our worth based solely on the feelings or needs of another? I cringed at this thought, wanting to deny its possibility but strove onward. If we are sorely missed when we die, what of those who have no family or friends? Because they are not missed does that mean they have no worth? And, returning to myself, while I knew that others would miss me, I also knew that my own internal yard stick would still find me lacking. With that I was brought back full circle, what makes me worthy?
I sat and stared out the window with uncomfortable ambivalence while pedestrians, oblivious to my internal commentary, continued to make cameo appearances on my moving stage. There were old and young, street people and professionals; store clerks and labourers. There were those who walked alone and I wondered if they knew love and I saw couples and questioned if their affection was real. There were soundless dialogues and dramatic gestures. People dodged traffic and bought hotdogs; waited at crosswalks and passed out flyers. There was a myriad of activity but mostly what I saw was a passivity of movement—a seemingly meaningless motion with, in my downcast mood, marked an absence of care for self or for other. Without care, I concluded, there is no worth.
Then the lines began blurring and my thoughts grew more chaotic. Everything seemed slightly off like a surreal dance or a badly dubbed movie. I got off to transfer from bus to train and wandered in a daze to the automated ticket kiosk. I pulled out my coins and a pocketful landed on the floor. Suddenly, it seemed too much, an overwhelming amount to bear. I saw an agent approach and with subtle horror realized it was the wrong person to be coming my way. In the past we had had an altercation over a slightly expired ticket and I found her to be patronizing and uncompromising. Hoping she would pass me by I sucked in my breath and bent down to retrieve the fare. I saw the black scuffed shoes first and then dexterous hands helping me scoop up stray coins; a folksy voice asked if I needed help. Surely this wasn’t my nemesis talking. I felt dizzy with apprehension. It was like I had stepped into another dimension and there was Mayberry’s Aunt Bee offering homespun goodness. I shook my head to clear the fog and glanced up. She looked like the woman I had previously shared unkind words with but, then again, there was also something different about her. I stared a bit longer and my imagination grasped for the absurd declaring that it must be her sister, or twin. Yes, the good twin, not the evil one.
The transit agent, unaware of my perusal, continued to offer a sincere countrified charm and surprisingly inoffensive positivity. Wasn’t the weather lovely? It’s hard feeling down on a day like this. Hope you have a nice evening, dear… My weakened defenses shattered and my eyes teared at her kindness. Nemesis or not, this woman was reaching out across the lines of our (my?) animosity and gifting me with an open heart. I thanked her and wandered off to the train, once again alone, once again pondering my worth.
The relevance of the agent’s actions didn’t hit me until I was seated on the train. My worth—anyone’s worth—cannot be measured on individual attainment, intimate relationship or some magical formula of self-actualization. It is based on our interrelatedness, the invisible connections that are the foundation for life. It is not so much that I am someone’s child or friend, mate or colleague but that I am connected to others, not necessarily by choice but solely because I exist. By virtue of just being, I am related to every other living thing, flora and fauna. I may not know the person walking towards me but in my noticing, we are both affected. I look at him or her and my glance is taken away from something else and in that move I am changed as is the person I did, and did not look at. I breathe in what you just breathed out; I smile and your heart opens; I move this way and you respond in kind, or not. I die and become earth; the earth grows food and feeds those who live. I am but one strand in the web of life but that strand is continuous within the whole and, as such, is important.
My worth, I began to realize, is directly proportionate to my recognition of this invisible thread. If I recognize this, I acknowledge my infinite worth; if I don’t, my subjective worth diminishes. To speak for all of us, our self-worth is constant; it is only our perception or denial of our interconnectedness with all other beings that devalues us.
I am part of you as you are part of me. To negate our self-worth is to negate life in all its manifestations.
Jo-Ann Svensson teaches “Creative Codependence” and is a Certified ARC Health Practitioner.