True personhood

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.

4 Comments On This Topic
  1. Peter P
    on May 31st at 12:25 am

    Great post, Jennie.

    We have value because we exist!

    I love it!

  2. Melissa Stone
    on May 31st at 3:26 am

    Thanks for this, today I needed this word. My husband recently diagnosed with GBS, suddenly finds himself not able to work and needing help with basic life skills. It is not just the elderly that are treated and may feel unnecessary often the handicapped and disabled people feel this way. And I could not even imagine my life without him. Thanks for the reminder that life is sacred!

    • newsong40
      on May 31st at 2:55 pm

      Thank you so much, Melissa. Yes, the disabled definitely fall into this category too, sorry I forgot to mention that in my post. Your husband is definitely worth as much today as he was yesterday, last week, last month or last year.
      May the Lord bless, strengthen and encourage you as you walk this valley together, and bring you out the other side stronger and with an even greater sense of your immense value to Him.


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