Have you ever noticed that plants seem to thrive even in the harshest environments, as long as there is light, which they turn into food, and at least some moisture? Animals, too, seem to adapt quite well to adverse environments as long as there is food and water. People share these traits, but it seems that food and water are not the main requirements for survival. Well, yes, they are, on a subsistence level, but human beings exist beyond mere survival. They understand their lives best on an emotional plane. Here, food and water are necessary but life depends upon something else.
Today I met three very different people. The first was a man today who is looking for work. Because of where he is living, I assume he is working through some past struggles in his life. I would have loved to offer him a job and help him get set up in an apartment of his own, but that was not what he needed from me. The second was a friend who struggles with health, financial, and family issues. I would love to pay off some of her medical bills, help her learn to eat more healthily, and offer assistance in raising her children, but she doesn’t need those things from me. The third was an elderly lady who struggles with constant back pain and has trouble getting around. I wish I had the time to run errands for her and just sit with her to help pass the time. But, again, those are not what she needs from me.
As a teacher, I know that the greatest dis-service I can offer is to do things for my students and to give them the answers. All that does is reinforce the idea that they are not very capable on their own. Human beings have the unique ability to figure out how to survive, how to adapt, and how to change their circumstances all by themselves. All these things I’d like to do for the three people I met today would be very nice, and deeply appreciated. But that’s not what these people need. People are rather amazing creatures. They can survive against incredible odds – if they know that they matter to someone else, if they understand that their existence is important to someone else.
Businesses try to make their customers feel welcome with greetings like, “Welcome to Sonic! How may I help you?” and “Welcome to Verizon Wireless!” All that does is wave their brand in your face (or ear). Some of us remember the doormen at the posh hotels. (I don’t personally remember them, but I have seen them…) The doormen were not there to welcome guests to whatever the name of the hotel was, but to simply welcome them, to greet them in person. If the guests were welcomed as persons of worth, the assumption was, they would feel worthy within that hotel, and because they felt worthy, they would return again and again, regardless of the cost. There are times we shop in certain stores because we want the absolute lowest price. But there are other times when we do business because of the personal service we receive, and we choose to go back to that business because we feel better about shopping there than in a business where the price might be a bit lower but the service is more impersonal. Churches are beginning to realize that it is not the details of doctrine that matter most to prospective members, but it is the feeling of personal value that determines whether or not people will return and possibly choose that church as their house of worship.
It is this feeling of personal value that my three people needed today. It wasn’t what I could give them or do for them, it was the value they felt I attached to them as people, just as they were at that moment. That’s what mattered.
The crazy thing about helping people to feel that they matter, is that I get the feeling that I matter, too. Valuing people becomes a cycle that keeps reinforcing itself in positive ways. Some people call this love. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that feeling valued is the difference between success and failure, thriving and not thriving, and in some cases, life and death. I have taught in a prison, and I was the only teacher who did not have a guard in or near the classroom at all times. I’m not sure why this was, but I rarely had problems with my students. I think the reason was that each and every student knew that I valued him as a person, regardless of the reason for his incarceration.
This past week there was a horrible mass shooting in a small Kansas community where no one would ever have dreamed such a thing would happen. But the shooter did not feel he was a valuable person and had a record of events that reinforced that feeling. I wonder…if each of my readers made a commitment to help other people feel valued, regardless of their circumstances, how many crimes could we prevent? How many lives could we save? How much healing could we bring to our corner of a very hurting world?