I have volunteered on projects my whole life, whether it’s a cleanup, fundraising, habitat for humanity, or construction work with Engineers Without Borders. I’ve slowly come to realize, as I’ve said before, how much money might have value, but time has something more. Not only is personal involvement more, well, personal, but it has an unmeasurable amount of worth to those affected.
How do you measure the worth of something? Well, it’s all relative.
When I was standing in a dusty yard in a small Cameroonian village watching children kick a torn soccer ball and I pulled little Belinda aside to give her a slightly used pair of lady’s shoes, no dollar sign could represent the emotion she had for the shoes. She literally grabbed my arms in shock, timidly put a shoe to her foot – a perfect fit –
then flat out collapsed in my arms and tucked her legs into the air. There I was, standing against a wall, holding a dangling child by my forearms who was so humbled by a simple gift that she buried her face in my stomach and couldn’t even look me in the eye. Then she grabbed the bag and ran home to her hut faster than an American child to an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.
How do you measure that?
Plane ticket, $1,864.
Time spent in Cameroon, 3 weeks.
Time spent on project, thousands of hours.
The look on her face, UNMEASURABLE.
When I paid twice the price for a loaf of bread in Ouidah, Benin, the grandmother who couldn’t even speak French communicated by the happy tears in her eyes and her clasped hands. For an extra 200 francs. Or 40 cents.
Playing games with the children in the village last year…and then returning over a year later to the same children, slightly taller, wearing the same clothes (just more tattered), screaming my name and dancing the dances I taught them. Priceless. Their joy, for nothing, with so much worth.
Even better than the feeling of feeding the poor and sitting with them on Thanksgiving is taking a tag off of the Salvation Army tree, putting serious effort in picking the best gifts for the anonymous wishes, then dropping the bag off. You don’t know where it goes, they’ll never know who you are, and that secrecy feels so selfless that it’s selfish. And worth a LOT.
But even more simply, sitting here on a worksite, on a cold Sunday morning, covered in mud, one has a new appreciation for the DuPont suits given to the workers. They work so hard and so long, harder than I, and they are overwhelmingly appreciative when I give out company stickers for their hard hats. Because they earned it. Because it’s their badge of honor. But it’s just a silly sticker that I have complained about so often, one that is such an awkward shape that it doesn’t stick smoothly to the plastic. But things mean so much more when you’re a dedicated immigrant, happy to have a job and to live in America.
This is the kicker, my self-worth. How I measure myself. Well, how I have beenmeasuring my worth and not even realizing it.
Social media. How many likes I get. And it’s not just me! So many friends I talk to agree, we evaluate ourselves by the feedback we get when we put ourselves out there on social media.
I post something I love. I get little to no likes. On Facebook. On Instagram. Retweets or favorites on Twitter. Views on this blog.
My worth becomes the quantity of likes I receive. The quality? Some of these people I don’t even know…yet I still do it…
I compare myself.
He has more likes. She ALWAYS gets likes. What does that mean?? Do I have less friends? Am I not as interesting or popular or loved?? What does it mean???
It shouldn’t mean anything, but I have to admit that it means everything. Whether I want it to or not. And I hate it.
But at the same time, when I put something out there that I think is meaningless or controversial…. And people take my side – that is so incredibly empowering.
I guess we just need to get a grip on what something is worth, lest we continue to harm ourselves or under-appreciate things that could be a total game changer to someone else.