An Equivalent Centre of Self (Musings on Individual Worth)

Every Sunday, as part of my calling in the Young Women, I stand with the girls and recite the Young Women theme, including the list of values. Most of the time, these values are so familiar that they flow from my tongue without my consciously thinking about them (though I do get tripped up by virtue, which wasn’t one of the values when I was a girl).

But sometimes, I find myself lingering on certain values, trying to puzzle out their implications in my daily life, and in the daily lives of the girls I serve. Some time ago, I found myself discussing individual worth with a friend (and fellow leader). What does it mean to have individual worth? How do we acknowledge that worth in ourselves and others?

My friend offered this insight: maybe individual worth isn’t just about recognizing that we have value to God, but about recognizing that each of us values ourselves on a different, individualized scale.

George Eliot writes about this individual vantage point in her novel Middlemarch:

We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that stupidity, but yet it had been easier to her to imagine how she would devote herself to Mr Casaubon [her husband]. . . than to conceive with that distinction which is no longer reflection but feeling–an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects–that he had an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference.

In other words, we all view our world (ourselves and others) through the prism of our own values. For most of us at Segullah, this worldview includes values stemming from our religious beliefs. But all of us embrace values that aren’t strictly dictated by our religion: a value for order, for creativity, for empathy, for physical health and activity, for personal appearance. We find ways to support our values in our belief system—but not all of us prioritize these values in the same way.

But our individual prioritizing of values informs how we value ourselves—and how we value others.

By Vahram Mekhitarian, via Wikimedia Commons

In our discussion, my friend pointed to herself and her mother. Her mother is a trim, attractive woman in her late fifties who takes pleasure in exercising and maintaining her figure. Because of this, it’s sometimes hard for her to sympathize with her daughter, who doesn’t share the same priorities. It might be easy—especially for those of us who struggle to exercise regularly or eat better—to dismiss her priorities as shallow; after all, these priorities are primarily based on looks. But there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to be healthy or wanting to look good; in fact, we can find doctrinal basis for taking care of our bodies. The problem comes when we look at these different values and instead of simply acknowledging the difference, we mark those other values as somehow wrong—or at the least, less significant.

Take another example. In the nearly eleven years that I’ve known her, my mother-in-law and I have had some misunderstandings arise out of our different values. For my mother-in-law, having an immaculate house reflects her worth as a mother and a wife; a clean and peaceful home is part of how she cares for her family. For me, on the other hand, much of my self-worth is tied up in my intelligence and creativity: I feel like I have value when my mind is engaged in writing, reading, or otherwise creating. I find I value those who demonstrate intelligence, and I want to be valued by them. (Of course, I could write another post on the virtues and problems with this approach; for now, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that this is how I am.) So when I forego mopping my floor after my kids are in bed to write another chapter in my fledgling novel, I feel better about myself; but I worry that my mother-in-law sees my messy floor as a sign that I don’t, perhaps, care as much about her son and grandchildren as I should.

I find that I’m much more sympathetic about her perspective if I see it in these terms: as values stemming from a different sense of individual worth. As Eliot wrote, my mother-in-law has “an equivalent centre of self”—her worth is no less than (and no more than) mine, though we view our worlds differently.

Part of our moral growth—and part of the process of claiming our individual worth—is learning to recognize this difference. As I look around my ward—particularly at the young women I serve—I wonder if we wouldn’t all benefit from trying to see others not through our own lens of values, but through their own lens. Some of our young women value dress: they embrace creative hairstyles and are always immaculately turned out. Others are more athletic, and their sense of self is bound up in their physical abilities. Recognizing these individualized value systems doesn’t diminish our own value, but it allows us to recognize the value in others, to see them as they see themselves.

 

What informs your own sense of worth? What helps you recognize the individual worth of others? How do you keep in mind their “equivalent centre[s] of self” in your interactions with them?

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

10 thoughts on “An Equivalent Centre of Self (Musings on Individual Worth)

  1. At the heart of this idea of the empathy of ideals, there must exist a willingness of multiplicity. What I mean is that before I can view another person who has different values from me with empathy, I must first recognize that I don’t hold a monopoly on what is right/proper/valuable. I choose my personal values because I see them as paramount, the best possible choice. To respect the choices of others I must admit that there are other best possible choices, that there are multiple “bests”; maybe even an infinite number dependent on past, present, circumstances, and any number of other variables. To do this I must be content with some amount of uncertainty, with variability and admitting my inability to know everything, or to be right all the time. This comfort with my choices, while comfortable with uncertainty, is something that takes a great deal of maturity and, I think, reliance on Christ because in doing so we recognize so well how impossible it is for us to be “right”. I don’t have either of those qualities mastered but it is something to work towards. A multiplicity of right. (not related to moral relativism)

    And please keep the promise to write about this in the future: “I find I value those who demonstrate intelligence, and I want to be valued by them. (Of course, I could write another post on the virtues and problems with this approach; for now, it’s enough to simply acknowledge that this is how I am.)”

  2. I love this post and the idea of an “equivalent centre of worth!” Our centers of worth are equal in value, but they occur in different locations on a spectrum–and they overlap, sort of like Venn diagrams. I think those areas of overlap are where it is easiest for us to start to understand each other. But, as your post points out beautifully, we don’t stop there and stay focused in the overlapped areas, wondering why all the other centers of worth are not converging onto and aligning with our center. Instead, we learn to appreciate the beauty of the pattern created by the overlapping of all these unique centers of amazing worth.

    My sense of worth seems to be focused on time, how I spend it, how to make the best use of it. To be honest about your other question, I don’t think I have thought of others this way before. I have thought of them as equal before God, equal in the love that God feels for them as for me, and, sometimes, I can actually feel a portion of that love of God for that person, the desire for the best and for happiness for that person, the aching and reaching out to that person. But, until I read your post, I never thought of their identity as starting from and growing and developing from a different (but equal) locus than mine.

    So, thank you. It will be a wonderful mental image for me in the future. I love it.

    Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living
    and
    Kate’s genealogical newspaper stories from Iowa in 1870s@Finding Their Stories

  3. I’ve been trying to work out how to more easily accept others’ “centres of self”, particularly when they are so different to mine. I think your post has given me a better way to look at the differences, thank you!

    My own sense of self comes from internal machinations – reading, writing, creating ideas, essays, discussions, research. Plus, baking.

    I want to read the other post idea essay too!

  4. I love this! Reminds me of a part of a talk from Uchtdorf I just read:

    “Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God”

  5. This was excellent. I also wholeheartedly agree with Jendoop above. The majority of frictions that we come across in our lives (especially at church where we talk so much about choosing “the right”) could be eradicated if we could all manage to understand and accept that what’s right for us may not be right for another but that their “right” doesn’t not threaten, lessen or cheapen MY version “right”. We can only really apply what’s “right” to our own selves. But anyway, I’m getting off topic.

    I don’t really yet know what or where my centre of self is – or what it derives from. It is one of the ongoing confusions of my life born probably out of many mental struggles thanks to inherited neural pathway issues, but I hope to have at least sorted it out by the time I die. Hopefully. Maybe it’s is that struggle and confusion itself that defines me? I have no idea. :)

  6. Such greats! Jendoop–yes, I think empathy starts from recognizing that we don’t hold a monopoly on right thinking.

    Kate–I hadn’t thought about the idea of overlaps being where we understand others best, though of course you’re right. (There’s a great 19th century rhetorician, Kenneth Burke, who talks a lot about “consubstantiality” in terms of our ability to persuade those who think like us).

    Kel–I’m glad this was helpful to you. Also, reading your list of values, it’s clear to me why I feel such a sense of kinship. :)

    Mel–yes. I loved that talk. I’m still not always very good about judging those who are quite different from me, but I’m working on it. Posts like this are partly me just trying to figure things out.

    Marnie–I’ve struggled with this same thing, trying not to feel threatened when someone else’s “right” isn’t the same as my right. But I’m also deeply grateful that God doesn’t expect us all to look the same, or I’d be in trouble.

  7. Oh how I love this — it really strikes at the core of something that I have been struggling to put my finger on. I guess one of my “centers of worth” is the fact that I make a strong effort not to judge others, to appreciate them for what they value and for what makes them unique, and I am often shocked by others’ rejections of the differences in others. Also, like you, a clean home is not the way that I define my worth — it is nice to have, and a rare blessing, but usually, like you, I am struggling to build my mind and utilize my creativity. At times, I worry that this is selfish because it is such an intrapersonal quest, but I think that it does bless our families as well — as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, we are better able to bring joy to the lives of others if we have strong minds. There are so many ways to serve others and so many ways to bring joy to our own lives. I love all that this post has given me to think about.

  8. Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it
    from somewhere? A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my
    blog shine. Please let me know where you
    got your design. Bless you

  9. I love this post too (late to the conversation due to moving). It makes me think of how different each of my children is. Extroverted, introverted, creative, orderly…it is a struggle to parent them with even recognition of their sense of self. I don’t want my kids with different centers of value to feel less than the others.

    I have recently put more value into my physical health and recognize that not everyone wants to or has time to focus on that aspect of life. I talked about this with a friend who prefers to spend more time creating. It is wonderful when we can love each other despite our different choices and values.

  10. Wow, this was really enlightening. I’ve never thought about different personalities in this “value system” way before, but it really opens my mind to acceptance and awareness of other people. Thank you!

Comments are closed.