We have given things priority over persons, we have built a civilisation based on things rather than on persons. Old people are discounted because they are purely and simply persons, whose only value is as persons and not as producers any more.
Dr Paul Tournier
Yesterday I wrote about dependence. Towards the end of the post, I suggested that a significant factor in our resistance to being dependent on others is to do with our concept of personhood and value. If we are not able to do things, we think, we must have outlived our worth.
This econometric valuation of life is incredibly widespread in our culture, and sounds very convincing: when I am costing more – in time, effort and money – than I am contributing, I must be being a drain on society. Drain = burden; burden = bad; therefore lack of contribution = bad.
Today’s quotation, taken from Tournier’s book Learning to Grow Old, and quoted in Stott’s The Radical Disciple, invites us to rethink our value system. A person is not simply a unit of work. Sure, if your lawnmower stops cutting grass or your washing machine stops cleaning clothes, then it is time to discard and replace them. A person is not the same.
A new-born baby is an incredible drain on time, effort and resources, but any but the worst parent considers it to have value regardless of this. In part, the sacrifices seem worth it because of the potential in that child. Knowing it will one day be able to walk unaided gives added motivation to walking around, awkwardly bent over, holding its hands as it totters from place to place. But this is only added motivation. For the most part, parents love their child because of his existence. ‘He is, and therefore we love him.’
The same should be true at the end of life, too. We honour the elderly in part because of the contribution they have made to our lives and societies, but mostly because they exist, and are thus worthy of – and in need of – love.
Whatever your strengths and weaknesses, whatever your gifts and talents, what ever you can make and do and contribute – even if the answer to all those is ‘nothing’ – you matter.