Value Is Arbitrary

18 Jan

Value is a judgment. We coach it in pleasant terms but really, let’s be honest, it’s the same as making a judgment call. On a person. On whether that cup of coffee is worth more than the hard cash currently in our hand. On the use of our time.

Value is arbitrary. And value judgments are everywhere.

At work. Years ago, I was assigned a cost analysis project for an entire company. It certainly opened my eyes to the decisions we make on value. How was I to determine the worth of a person? By their salary and benefits? Their years of experience? How likely their customers were to ask for them on a specific project? And what about the heat they absorbed (yes, I had to include this) and the space they consumed (offices were easy to account for but what about shared spaces like bathrooms and hallways and cafeterias – does everyone use them equally)?

When I tired of valuing the people, I turned towards valuing the machines. Even worse.  I asked for help. The accountants told me the purchase price of each machine and how  much its book value depreciated each year. Our finance guys told me how much it could be resold on the present market. Our sales guys said its worth was based on the number of parts it turned out, our machinists valued it on how reliable and consistent it was with specs, our maintenance guys valued it based on how infrequently it broke down. And determining the actual hours of usage and the electricity consumed?  Trust me, it was a frustrating assignment for a 20 year old.

Value is arbitrary.  And value  judgments are everywhere.

At home. We are somehow predisposed to judge ourselves. To assess how we stack up compared with others and to assign a value to our worth. Some people value themselves far too highly…and we try to steer away from them. Some people value themselves far too lowly…and we urge them to seek counseling. Very few people value themselves accurately.

And the value changes by the second. You lost weight? Oh, increase your value ! You added a trendy outfit, your value is on the rise. You failed at something? Better readjust your value. It’s a never-ending and inexhaustible game of Chutes & Ladders. Except that we are playing with ourselves – not with plastic diecuts.

When we determine that our own value system is inaccurate, we turn towards others for advice. Parents, siblings, close friends, spouses, bosses, coworkers, teachers – somehow we expect them to succeed where we fail. No wonder teen girls ask their friends “Is my boyfriend cute?” Because his value can apparently increase your value. We look for value in praise, in grades, in success, in scores.

Just like we value stocks and then watch them steadily rise (or, conversely, crash and burn) we do the same with ourselves. It’s unhealthy. It’s unwise.

Value isn’t arbitrary. It just needs to be determined by someone greater than us, someone above us, someone whose Yes is Yes and No is No and that is that, no questions asked. It’s simple. We are all “nothing” with the possibility of becoming “Christ plus nothing.” The I that was incompetent and inadequate becomes an in. We are in Christ. Identifying with him. Alive in him. Living in the “Christ plus nothing” means walking a daily line of grace and gratitude. It leaves no time for valuing others as lesser or greater than ourselves. Because they too are nothing and, in Christ, everything.

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