Monday, February 20, 2012

Value.

The truly wonderful thing about my job is that every day I get to talk to the most awe-inspiring young people. Young people who have been through the worst and come out the other side: often scarred, scared, angry and exhausted, but they are through - or at least, on their way. They are trying. They are fighting. And with that fight comes an unimaginable depth, a wisdom unlike anything I've ever seen. These children, these babies, have had their innocence stripped from them with the harshest chemicals life has to offer and yet they have clung to hope, and humanity, and life.

Every day they challenge my own perceptions about what life is, what life should be, what life could be. Every day they teach me a thousand things: about me, about them, about how this world works. They have seen things that I will never see, and they share with me without abandon, gifting me their stories. To the outside eye, I am helping them, but it's not nearly as simple as that. I teach them what I know, they teach me what they know, and we both leave the better for having known each other.

While I cannot share my clients with you, cannot share their names, their stories, their fights or their triumphs, I can share tiny pieces of their wisdom in the hope that their generosity in sharing this goes far beyond me. 

Today, I learned about value.

In a conversation with a client, they noticed that I had, foolishly, used the words 'valued' and 'valuable' interchangeably in discussing how they felt about themselves. 

"No," said my client. "Feeling valued and feeling valuable are not the same thing."
"Oh?" I asked. "What's the difference?"
"Feeling valuable means valuing your self. Feeling valued means other people value you. It's only worth feeling one," replied my client, "if you also feel the other. If you can't feel one of them, you're better off feeling neither of them."
"Why is that?" I asked. "Surely they are both nice feelings, whether you have both or not."
"If you feel valuable, but not valued, you spend your whole life angry, feeling ripped off by the world, feeling unappreciated by everyone around you. If you feel valued but not valuable, you feel guilty that people think more of you than what you are, and you feel like an imposter, like one day everyone will realise that you're actually not worth a damn. At least if you have neither, what you feel about yourself and what other people feel about you will match, and you can hate yourself in peace."
I sat in silence for a moment, and my client added,
"People always tell you to value yourself, but they forget that it will break your heart when nobody values you back."

Unlike previous entries, I'm not going to harp on about how this made me feel, or what this means, or how it changed my approach to my life/my job/the world (mostly because we'd be here for hours: all of those things happened). I just wanted to share this tiny piece of wisdom with you, especially if you work with youth.

"Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions."

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