Yesterday I deleted some people from my friends list on Facebook. This isn’t uncommon, as far as my activities in a normal week might go. It is uncommon that I have such a visceral reaction to the things people say that get them removed from the list.
These people clearly hit a nerve. So, I dug into that nerve. And my digging brought about the realization that they were saying things that I say to myself, and that is why it was so hurtful. I haven’t talked to these people in years. They know nothing of my situation, and never bothered to ask about it, but felt incredibly free to judge it, nonetheless. And they judged not just the situation, but me within the situation. They were making attacks—entirely unfounded attacks—on my character, and calling me a person who lies and steals.
Why, you might wonder, would I call myself a person who lies and steals? And I have an answer. Society.
When you are ill and cannot be “productive” in some hyper-capitalistic sense, you are called lazy and worthless on a pretty regular basis. And if not called it, then at least made to feel it. North American society oozes production. We over produce and we over consume and we are basically a big fat nation that hogs all the stuff and money. And when you don’t buy into the system of making too much and having too much you get all sorts of push-back. Has anybody been called “granola” or “hippie” for letting go of the idea that we need all the things all the time? Has anybody been chastised and berated for being too slow at making a latte or typing a document or responding to a text message? Has anybody been given the side-eye because they ordered a side salad for dinner at the steak house?
We are expected to fall in line and over produce and over consume and to always want more and always be more and never fail or slow or stop.
So, when you cannot play that game, and you sit the bench, you feel the disdain of the whole of your society. It pours over you. And you start to feel it inside of you. And it becomes not the mourning and coping that it ought be—the letting go of expectations and settling into your new truth—but a self-hatred that you never deserved.
Bodies and minds are complex and beautiful. And because they are such, we don’t always know what they are doing or why. My rheumatologist said today that I was pretty much stuck in the disabled column “unless they come up with a miracle pill”. And it would be a miracle pill because they don’t even know what causes my illness, much less how to treat it effectively. Barring an act of god, I stay this way. I stay broken and in pain and unproductive. And I hate that.
To hear someone else say to me the things that swim through my mind. To have relative strangers and former friends voice those things was hurtful because they were my fears realized. I am lazy. I am bad. I am not enough.
None of those things are true. Not one. But I feel like they are because of the way our society treats people who don’t produce in the ways that they deem fit.
I do produce.
I write when I am able, and I create works of art when I am able, and I am trying to learn to sew again, and I have a lovely little rosemary plant that I am growing in my front window. I also encourage and offer love to my friends and my daughter and my dad. Sometimes I talk with the neighbors, or send coloring pages to friends. I often spend time meditating and doing a few yoga poses and listening to or reading material that helps me cope with my illnesses. I listen to music. I play with my dog. I bake cookies once in a while. I compare theories on racism or feminism or Game of Thrones episodes with friends.
And that is more than enough. That might even be better than the Almighty Dollar or the shoddy product or the other service I might provide. If I could make a Big Mac, and not sit and braid a rug when I have the dexterity and energy, would you respect me and value me more? I hope not.
I mean, I’ve been a fast food worker, and spent much of my life working in the service industry, so I am in no way belittling the people who make your Big Mac. They deserve a thousand times more money and respect than they are currently receiving. But, what are the parameters for successful production? And who made them?
I’m choosing to reject them, no matter who made the parameters or what they are. I am enough as a disabled woman working her hardest to make ends meet and to jump through all the ridiculous hoops the state demands of me in order to get the benefits that are legally and rightfully mine through the Social Security Administration. And if that isn’t enough for you, then maybe you need to evaluate how you value people, and not evaluate what I do or don’t do with my time.
It isn’t like I break into your house and judge your parenting or cooking skill. And if you asked me to mail a letter on your behalf, I wouldn’t assume it was acceptable to judge all the areas of your life because you asked for one thing from me. And why would it be okay for you to put a spotlight on all the areas of my life because I ask you for one thing? Is it because that thing is money?
If that thing being money makes the difference, then you value money more than you value lives. If asking for a favor and asking for money are on two completely different planes, in your estimation, then you serve money, and not humanity. Because if you would pick up some milk for me, but not give me five dollars, you are placing undue value on the dollars. Of the two, five dollars is probably worth less than the favor, if you factor in the price of gas, the price of milk, and the value of your time.
I’m currently listening to a song that has lyrics that repeat, “Have you ever lost every part of yourself?” And this resonates with me, because becoming disabled felt like losing every part of myself. I can’t do what I once did. My mind isn’t the same. My body isn’t the same. My capabilities and skills and gifts and occupations and expectations all came to a grinding halt. I lost everything I was, in some sense.
Until I realized, and people reminded me, that I didn’t lose all. I still have my sense of humor and my fabulous snarky sarcasm and my beautiful eyes and that face that always shows what I am thinking (even when I want to conceal what I am thinking) and my love for humanity and my passion for justice and my artistic spirit and my love of music and the power of Wonder Woman as my guiding light. I am still me, but I produce at a slower rate than I once did. And this is only problematic if I keep buying into the idea that my value is directly correlated with my rate of production.
No person’s value should ever be directly correlated with their rate of production. Not ever.
So, these people who are no longer on my friend list did me a favor. They reminded me of who I am and what I am capable of, instead of keeping me stuck in a place where I was focused on my own lack of production and means of production. They shook me out of the place where I valued myself only as the hyper-capitalist society valued me, and brought me back to the peace of knowing who I am, and valuing myself as a human, and not as a mode of production.
Would it not be incredibly transformative for each of us to have someone push us into that knowing and that valuing of the self? What if the people working 65 hours knew that they would be just as cared for and valued if they worked 32 hours? They would likely all choose the 32. What if we all believed that our passions were worth living out, instead of things relegated to the spare room or the moments when we finally retire from the 9 to 5 production race? How many people would be writing a concerto instead of punching a time clock?
What would happen if we all looked at ourselves and one another through a lens that included valuation based on humanity and joy and kindness and love and passion and friendship and interest and curiosity and so on and so forth, instead of one that valued only production, and subsequent dollars? I would LOVE living in that world—and not just because it would mean I struggled less with seeing my disability as a failure of humanity, but because the whole world would be filled with good and love and joy, not stuff. I would much rather have the love and the joy and the good than the stuff.
So, I am not deficient. I am actually less so than those who would judge my inability to produce as a marker of deceit and theft. Because I value humanity above productivity. I look at people and see people, not burdens or benefits.
How do you see people? Do you see them at all, or are you too busy trying to prove your own productivity? Take a breath. Let it go. And look deeper.
You are not the sum of your production.
You are a person.
And you are valuable.