The idea of human value and self-worth is both fascinating and important: how we view our selves, our limitations, and the changing nature of our psychological and physical lives; and equally, how we see and relate to others. In all of that, there’s the social side we weave together but also the inner journey we all take through life.
The tendency to judge one another based on physical, economic or social standards may be normal (see Notes One), but it’s also fairly meaningless and divisive. Given how so much is determined by birth and environment, what a person makes of ‘their lot in life’ must say infinitely more about who they truly are. And for society to place so much value on things that can be bought seems strange: these masks of perfection, power or privilege that impart identity and self-esteem.
But all that’s a part of life: how we fit in, what others see in us, the opportunities we have, and our relationships with those around us. That picture essentially gives us a sense of who we are and what we mean within society. And there are undoubtedly complex interconnections between self, society, and the storylines offered us by culture (Notes Two).
It just seems modern society pushes us towards human estimations based on external trappings that are largely beyond our control. Is it right to view people that way, based on where they happen to exist in the socio-economic pockets of a divided society? Are we right to socially and financially reward those who ‘win the hereditary lottery’? Is that what it is to be human?
Life seems to be this path of being born into a given situation; shaped by your physical, emotional and social environment; then by the wider influences of community, education, and prevailing sociocultural trends. The personal journey being that question of who we truly feel ourselves to be, how well our conditioning suits or serves us, what we wish to become, and how we feel about the society we find ourselves within.
For me, life is then this sense of working our way beyond both the gifts and limitations of our early existence. Making the effort to understand and accept who we are and how we came to be that way; to overcome that in whatever ways we see fit; and hopefully to become the best self we’re capable of. And alongside that, the idea of seeking to improve the society we’ve come to know: contributing in countless large and small ways to iron out problems and bring greater humanity to bear, whatever our station in life.
A culture based on a thorough knowledge and mastery of self and a conscious understanding of and contribution to society seems a beautiful picture of responsible humanity; and, in that light, a person’s worth becomes more a sense of how they’re managing to live their own unique life. That path is different for each and every one of us, but surely it’s always a worthwhile striving.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Value of each human being
Note 1: Attitudes to elder members of society
Note 1: What do we see in beauty?
Note 2: Relating to cultural benchmarks
Note 2: How many aren’t well represented?
Note 2: Mirrors we offer one another
Also What makes a good life, where I spoke briefly of the idea that life is what we make of it.