We are living in an amazingly progressive time — technological advancements are allowing people to live longer and with better health than ever before in human history. The overall quality of life of humans has been steadily increasing along with the literacy rate as education becomes distributed to everyone and not just those who can afford it. People are going to the moon. People are making personal moons out of 3D printers! And to me, the best advancement made is that now I can order unlimited supplies of mochi and Netflix movies without ever leaving my bed!
The world as we are experiencing it right now is an amazing place, growing and changing rapidly with every new advancement. Humans are adapting to these changes and growing quickly as well — our society now is unique in a way never seen before because the majority of our interactions are now more with phone screens than directly with other people. Great changes are happening, and many more great things are coming as our society as a whole continues to advance and push the boundaries of what it means to be human and to experience humanity.
But there are always drawbacks to rapid and unnatural changes. Although the progress we have made as a whole for the human race is truly unsurpassable, society is changing in new ways in response to this progressive new lifestyle that are not sustainable. We are becoming a world of value, a world of authenticity and a world of worth. And I do not think that that is necessarily a good thing.
One could argue humankind has an innate tendency to value things, to determine if they are “good” or “bad,” “safe” or “unsafe” due to primitive instincts of observation that help keep us alive. The first cavemen probably used their limited knowledge from sensory observation and previous experiences to determine the “goodness” of things such as food, other animals and potential shelters in order to survive. So, in a way, humans have always been judging, always determining just how good something is or would be for ourselves, simply because it is a survival instinct.
But with the age of technological advancements, the act of valuing has been taken way beyond its extreme and is being bloated way out of proportion. Let us take, for example, a tree. Perhaps a caveman would have valued it as good if it produced edible fruit, had proper shade and maybe some branches that could be used to make a shelter or tools. How do you measure the goodness of a tree? Maybe by how aesthetically pleasing it is, whether the branches are well formed or the leaves pretty colors, or maybe you only think it interesting it if is an uncommon type of tree, exotic to this area. Maybe you only value the tree by the numerical value of the real estate it is planted upon. Perhaps the tree is deemed good enough if you can take a selfie underneath it, your smiling face surrounded by autumnal leaves and your post captioned #lovenature.
We live in a society where we are judging the value of every single thing that comes into our lives, every day. With every scroll on your phone you are judging the worth of that post and how “good” it is. Every day you meet new people and as you look at them you judge how “good” they are and how worthy they are to be your acquaintance; maybe even your friend. Maybe you judge from the way they dress or their haircut, maybe it is from their handshake or how they speak. Or maybe you made up your mind about the value of someone as soon as you realize something like their gender, ethnicity or religious affiliation. That determination then dictates how you will interact with that person in the future.
So what am I saying? The observational skills people learn and use to judge others are not inherently bad and they are way too ingrained within us to try to break. Being cautious and aware of your surroundings at any time means judging the people around you to see if they fit certain criteria that determines them as harmless or dangerous. This is a life skill people use to keep themselves safe and has helped save lives. But we have become a society that is hooked on the drug of determining value.
Somewhere along the way of determining if a tree was good or bad, we lost the joy of just looking at the tree — of just watching it grow and admiring a part of nature. By becoming so entranced with determining the value of things, we have let the natural wonder of them fall to the side. Instead of seeing a tree and taking a moment to enjoy its beauty as a living being in this world, we are too rushed, too preoccupied with whether it is aesthetically pleasing, rare or on fertile land.
I think where value and worth play their most detrimental role is within the interactions we have with each other. Even just within the small campus of Lawrence, we can find a pedagogical mindset of worth where the value of a Lawrentian is determined. To be considered worthy of the title “Lawrentian,” a person has to have a certain GPA, a certain class load, some extracurriculars and jobs, maybe a volunteering opportunity and at least one major if not a minor to boot. That is just one example of a valuing system we use here at Lawrence that is not only detrimental to how we interact with each other, but inaccurate.
I can tell you now that if you look at your fellow students and determine their worth to you from their number of majors, their grade average or perhaps the number of instruments they can play or languages they can speak, you are judging wrong. Every person on this earth is just that — a person. There are people in this world who live even today in rural communities with no electricity, no computers and no things like GPAs to measure their intelligence. But they have value. They may not have fancy titles or a list longer than my arm of the number of clubs they were in, and they may only speak one language. But they have unique life experiences and perspectives they can share with me and you that have real value and potential for impact on our lives.
Not everyone you meet in your life will look like your idealized image of success, whether that means wealth and power, nice clothes and a house or a big corporate job in a faraway country. But no matter how they look, every single person you meet will have value and worth because they are full of their own unique experiences, even if some may judge them as unsuccessful ones. Remember in life that not everything can be sorted into such neat categories as “good” or “bad.” If you look at people with the perspective that only fellow college graduates with two majors and billions of volunteer hours are worth your time to interact with, you are missing out on a lot. The world is so much more than numbers, aesthetic values or societal ratings.