Mattering. It matters more than anything else.
I started wondering recently about the importance of a couple of little words: ‘you matter’.
It happened, I can tell you, because sometimes I struggle inwardly with wondering if those two little words apply to me.
I know, of course, that they do. I have a great family, co-workers I like and respect, good friends, and a number of successful business ventures under my belt. I’ve worked on things from project management to art shows, from fundraisers to technical implementations, from research to community building to peacemaking. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there are people whose lives I’ve helped to change, and communities I’ve helped to grow a little bit.
I think folks would come to my funeral.
We all have our public selves, our competent selves, our strut-our-stuff selves. And we all have that other self.
You know damned well which one I mean.
If you think this is going to be my personal li’l confession of what plagues me, so sorry; no.
But it IS going to be an indictment of what I think is a pervasive, perplexing, insidious, self-replicating evil that plagues our society. It’s going to be a stripping-away of the long process of psychotherapy (which has helped me so much), a high-speed sprint to the roots of what bothers so many of us. It’s going to be a look at the simple roots of some of society’s most complex problems: terrorism and brutality–problems that have been affecting us all more and more. And I’m going to offer a way of thinking about what is hopefully, a simple, simple, solution.
It’s not the wondering “do I matter?” that’s the problem. I guess we all might ask that question.
It’s the eviscerating, gutting feeling that some of us have that we just…don’t.
- It’s pervasive in our society.
It’s common to kids in foster care…and artists at the highest levels. It affected Leonardo Da Vinci, for godssake. As talented as he was, he wondered if he mattered and he felt like a failure. I’m pretty sure Oprah understands the feeling. Some of us stumble our way out of it, with good luck and hard work, and some of us get trapped.
- It’s perplexing.
How do we get afflicted with that terrible disease? Who knows? A million paths to the same shitty feeling. Mostly, I believe, it comes from one or both parents having the same feeling, and it never being acknowledged or treated.
- It self-replicates.
When one or both parents struggle inwardly with that dreadful feeling of not mattering, it gets communicated to the kids. Unconsciously, unintentionally…and undeniably. If you don’t get it fixed in yourself, your kids ARE going to deal with it. And their kids are. And your great-grandkid. It’s an evil that can distill into a more and more toxic brew in each generation.
So if you’ve got it, work on it in your life, right now. Because if you have it, I guarantee your children are already infected, even if they show no signs of it yet. Your best shot of helping your children not have that horrid feeling inside is for you to escape it…and for them to see you working on accomplishing that.
Why does an inner feeling of not mattering matter so damned much?
- It’s insidious to the individual, costing individual humans so very, very much. It erodes an individual’s ability to achieve. It strips away our ability to get stuff done.
It makes us too afraid even to try, to believe. It sets a tripwire across the small-start efforts that differentiate a kid who’ll become a rockstar and a kid who’ll stay a short-order cook. I’m not demeaning short-order cooks. I’m just sayng, each human being deserves the right to explore the potential she or he senses in side, instead of suffocating it themselves just from fear of trying.
- It’s insidious to the individual’s community.
It makes what accomplishments we DO achieve seem worthless: not worth talking about, not worth showing, not worth sharing.
I know in my case, it makes everything a not-very-big deal. No matter what I achieve I pooh-pooh it as something anyone could have done. I never let myself celebrate an accomplishment.
And because I can’t celebrate my own accomplishments, I’ve had trouble celebrating those of my children too. What kind of godawful message does that send to them?
I don’t know when the fire jumped the barrier to them. Something inside lay dormant until some personal trigger went off. Now, having a party for on of them is a huge struggle for me. I become utterly panicked at the idea of Christmas presents. I know I won’t get the right thing. I never have. It keeps me from celebrating them as humans, in little ways and big ways…and what message does that send them?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. They matter hugely to me. But it’s my actions that will shape them inside.
Now, remember the part about the individual being too afraid to try, to believe? To get things done? If you add together a lot of individuals not achieving, you have a community that’s not achieving.
Too many communities not achieving…and you have a country in decline.
I’ll get to the awful part, the part about mass murderers, in a little bit. But even without them, you can start to see the massive way that simply mattering…matters.
Now for a political message: I hate entitlements as much as anyone. I HATE them. I’ve seen them abused: I’ve heard able-bodied, not-working people bitch and moan about Obamacare when they got expensive meds for a buck a prescription. I despise entitlement abuse. So this next bit isn’t about creating more entitlements. It’s subtler and deeper.
Because I also hate when working people don’t make enough to have any extra money (and when they buy into the whole fucked-up “food” system in our country, but that’s another topic…and yeah…they’re gonna find money for cigarettes because their lives are crappy and stressful, and because nicotine (a product marketed by some very, very, very rich and powerful Republican folks) is harder to kick than heroin: fact)….because when you don’t have enough extra money, what little extra you have doesn’t go to healthy food or dentists. So you get fat, and unhealthy looking, and have shitty teeth.
There are three foundation things that really help going into a job interview to get ahead in life: decent teeth, decent skin, and belief that you can do, or learn to do, the job.
A decent education helps. But back to point one: people who get the message that they don’t matter don’t usually get good educations. And you can get good work without a good education by being determined and willing to work. But look crappy, and you become less and less employable. The whole stupid ball of clusterfuck keeps getting bigger and bigger.
So…who doesn’t matter now?
Did you think of a name? If you did, you’re wrong. Even if you tried to think of someone, you were on the wrong track. The right answer is not who matters and who doesn’t.
The right answer is that each and every little kid in school, every struggling single father or mother, every emergency services person, every recovering addict, every pretty girl who looks like she’s got everything on the outside but when she’s empty inside, every grunt soldier, every black kid white kid trailer-park kid rich kid poor kid middle class kid skinny kid fat kid gay kid WhiteAfricanMexicanEasternEuropeanAsianArabic kid every annoying kid, every shy kid…every kid: they all matter. And they need to know inside that they matter.
People who shoot up college campuses…maybe it’s not so much that they felt bullied as that they’re the third generation down who got the message, silently, unintentionally–and from the get-go–that they didn’t matter.
They do matter. They matter because we’d be happier as a society if they knew it–and didn’t have to prove it in such a sad, sick way.
Men who beat their wives to a pulp…maybe it’s not so much that their own dads beat them as that they passed along a message: Hey, son…you don’t matter squat.
But they did matter too, and still do. On behalf of their own kids who they’ll beat–the next generation who will inherit the legacy message “you don’t matter either”….Dad or Mom needs to learn that they matter, a lot, and work on believing it, impossible though it might seem to them–before they become the parents of hate-crimers.
Did you think I just said the parents of hate-crimers are wife-beaters? No. Many parents of people wh commit hate crimes are nice, normal, horrified people.
I said that hate-crimers may feel, viscerally, from a young age, that they don’t matter, and that gets twisted over years of shame into ‘hell, fuck society’. So where did they get the message? I could be way off here. Way off. But I wonder: do some hate-crimers get the message they don’t matter from good, hard-working, well-meaning parents–who don’t realize how much they struggle with the inner infection they have unwittingly passed along to their children?
Like the Kennedys and politics, like the Barrymores and acting, the corrosive, erosive feeling of not-mattering can also be a learned family legacy.
And if so, it can be unlearned.
Did you ever have that feeling of not mattering? It’s just you and yourself, reading this. Ask yourself, point blank and with no warning: do I feel as if I matter to anybody?
No, I mean it; don’t just read the sentence above! Actually take a moment and be quiet and ask yourself.
Did you get that horrible worm-twisting feeling somewhere inside?
So now you know. And if you did get that feeling: do you know if you’ve unconsciously passed it along to your children? Of course you wouldn’t want to.
But you may have.
We need you to fix yourself, so that they can learn how to fix themselves, from watching you.
So you do matter. Everybody matters.
Knowing that and believing it has enormous possibility, to set us free as individuals and communities and a nation to explore a far bigger potential.
Knowing that you matter, even if only to yourself, will create a warm fire of possibility in your gut.
It can keep all things possible, and it can keep the dark at bay.
So if you struggle with self-confidence, with fear, with anxiety, with depression, will you please try this one little thing?
Every morning, every noon, every nightfall and every just-about-to-fall-asleep, and anytime in between that you feel fear, overwhelmed panic, shame or negativity wash over you, the awful feeling of I’ll-never-accomplish-anything, please tell yourself:
“I care about myself. I matter, and I care about myself. And I’m going to do good someday.”
I say these words because I hope tremendously that I won’t pass this insidious disease down to my children. They’ll see me fighting it, and knowing that I matter enough to myself to fight it will send a different, better message to them.
That’s how we break the cycle as individuals. I have more thoughts on how we affect these terrible social problems from a social perspective, and will post that next.
In the end, it all comes down to the individual. Each makes decisions, and takes actions (or doesn’t) for personal good or destruction, for family good or destruction, and for social good…or destruction.
Because you do matter, and knowing so, you will do good.
(Grammar friends: I mean the noun, not an adverb.)
I hope this helps people find peace.
Thank you for reading, and be well,