Kierkegaard’s bull’s-eye: “Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy — to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work”.
The other day, a friend wondered what her worth is.
We have all done that, grasping for our “worth” within the context of the expectations of others, and forever answering to that monkey on all of our backs : the prevailing culture. A set of expected, laudable behaviours have been thrust at us in all the decades of our lives, starting at our first halting sentences, persisting through the entire education system, up to our dotage – the hammering of the nails into this particular coffin so familiar that we can no longer hear it.
A dazzling bouquet of possibilities for the gathering of applause and acceptance is presented – money, influence, power, philanthropy, mental excellence, physical beauty and so on. And the world turns on these axes, as both individual and collective egos continuously compete and grasp for them in order to feel worthy. Our days and years are squandered in continuous, urgent and slavish pursuit of these – we strain to secure the future, fret about our past, and utterly neglect our simple human essence in the present. There’s no time for the present – the preoccupation with the future and the past exhausts every available hour of every day.
Perhaps the most important consequence of these compelling distractions is that we forget that love is only ever present in the present. This forgetting is the very mechanism by which we unlearned our fundamental, simple and natural ability for happiness.
The word “worth” implies a recipient – we want to present value to something or someone. Certainly, our worth cannot be credibly determined by brutal cultural measures – we are not born to serve our culture. We are here for a far greater purpose. We are here to be in love (not in the romantic sense, but as opposed to being ‘outside’ of love). And that can only be done in the present. Only then are we approaching our “worth” – when we have the capacity to love. Then, the recipient of our “worth” is all of creation, not just our friends, lovers, culture and family.
It is the terrifying cultural injunction to busyness, and our consequent absence from the present, which keeps us from expressing and receiving love. Thus, happiness eludes us. In any event, happiness and love form a closed, mutually reinforcing loop – the one supports the other. Neither works well without the other. And our “worth” depends on both.
My friend and I have spent many years in these cultural delusions, and many years escaping it.
Our worth, then, seems to be directly proportional to the extent of our escape.