I recently watched a video in which a man saved a pregnant cow from slaughter, and then saved the calf from a difficult birth. Unfortunately the cow died from the complications of the delivery, so the man had to hand raise the calf. This calf grew to become the sanctuary ambassador, greeting and comforting new rescues as they came in. The tagline of this video was “Be worthy.”
One definition of worthiness that I really resonate with is “having qualities that merit acknowledgement in a given circumstance.” In the video, this man truly made himself worthy of the life he saved. Through embodying the qualities of kindness, compassion, care, and respect for life, he created an ever expanding positive feedback loop, benefiting himself and other beings.
So how do we measure worthiness? Like most things, it’s contextual, subjective, and ever changing. Fiscally we measure worth by balancing owned assets against owed liabilities. Depending upon where you live, your worker’s compensation policy may put a dollar value on your body parts. By this calculation, the average human eye is worth about $100,000. How we measure worth depends on our perspective in a given time and circumstance.
In our culture of individualism, there is much talk about self-worth. Unfortunately, there are many folks out there who don’t value themselves and don’t see themselves as lovable. Feeling worthy may help empower and inspire us to care for ourselves and others. But, having certainty that we are “up to the task” isn’t necessary for doing good in the world. Many of our most admired helpers had grave doubts about their worthiness. In a letter to a colleague, Mother Teresa wrote, “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work…” Yet, according to Pope John Paul II, she had “the strength and perseverance to place herself completely at the service of others” her entire adult life.
The self-worth theory (Covington & Beery, 1976) says a combination of ability, effort, and performance tends to determine our self-acceptance. It’s often measured by what we do – our achievements. You can use the Contingencies of Self-Worth Scale developed by researchers Crocker, Luhtanen, Cooper, and Bouvrette in 2003 to see how you tend to measure your own self-worth.
What if we measured self-worth through prosocial qualities such as kindness, compassion, empathy, respect for others rather than extraordinary abilities or achievements? Like the animal sanctuary worker, we too might create beneficial feedback loops, helping others feel worthy through our own embodiment of unconditional love, respect, and positive regard. Some mindful strategies that can help us value ourselves so we can better value others include:
- increasing self-awareness through contemplative practices
- connecting with our common humanity
- aligning our actions with our highest values
- taking responsibility for things that are within our control and acknowledging what is not within our control
- learning from our mistakes and forgiving ourselves and others
- recognizing the good within us and in others
As we begin to awaken through mindful and loving presence, we don’t land in a sense of worthiness, which is just another assessment of self. Rather, the very sense of a separate self becomes increasingly porous and transparent, and we begin to rest more and more in the light-filled space of awareness that regards ourselves and all beings with appreciation and love. It is this shift in identity that expresses our true healing and growing freedom. – Tara Brach