My bottom line is that I value myself and others for who we are, not what we possess or our annual salaries. I believe we are all absolutely equally worthy of respect, love and self-actualization.
At my first full-time job in 1980 my time was valued at $3.10/hour, the minimum wage. That is when I became officially indoctrinated into the culture of never-enough-money-or-time, although I’d certainly been exposed to the idea as a child. I watched my father collapse in exhaustion on the couch after work. I heard my mother say “we can’t afford it.” From both of them I learned the refrain, “there’s not enough time.”
This year I made a pivotal decision. I mentally, emotionally and spiritually began tipping a fat, longstanding sacred cow—I ceased thinking of time as money. I stopped running U.S. Economics, Version 2015 as my default program. I dared to hope the world might value what I felt most passionate about giving: myself, my insight, my caring. I had the audacity to believe there was enough of everything: time, money, love.
A friend offered a transformational idea: exchange an hour of time at my new peer support venture for whatever a client makes per hour. This effectively kicked the cornerstone out of the conceptual structure upon which I had built many of my life’s assumptions. Suddenly my wage had nothing to do with my value; it became simply a logical, agreed-upon rate of exchange for two people with needs to meet.
Since I was offering to build peer relationships in which equality is a central value, the formula made beautiful sense. Still, I watched a few peers struggle with the concept. Some seemed to feel embarrassed by how little they were paid. A few said, “I know your time is worth more than this.” Sometimes I tried to gently explain, but it was hard to effectively communicate that I no longer looked at time or money that way.
Some peers cannot pay me at all. Others can afford $50, $100 or even $200. Most pay $15-$25. I have been appreciative and hopeful. I am getting comfortable accepting whatever is offered and throwing it in my grandfather’s old cigar box until banking day. I do not adjust my attention or scale my services based on the amount of the payment. Most of the time I can hold my vision that it will all balance out.
I was feeling pretty darn proud of my transformation until this week I tried to experimentally flip the concept in the other direction and uncovered something important hiding in the shadows of my psyche. I was inspired to ask a highly-paid professional if she would be willing to donate her time to me, a seemingly audacious request according to my old mindset. What emboldened me to ask is my firsthand experience of how rewarding it is to freely give my time and talents to persons who cannot otherwise afford what I have to offer. I needed, but did not have the means to pay for this person’s services.
I am deeply grateful she agreed, not only because my needs will be met, but because the situation brought my own hidden unworthiness into the light. Part of the agreement is that I fill out an application for assistance, providing documentation to prove that I was needy, which felt in that moment like the opposite of being worthy. There in black-and-white were all the assessments that hooked me straight back into the economic program I’d recently sought to uninstall. According to that model, I am living well below the federal poverty line this year, earning more like what I did in 1980.
Immediately upon confronting this mundane, scarcity-focused data, I temporarily lost my bold magic-mindedness. Anyone who has ever wholeheartedly practiced living by faith instead of fear will recognize this pitfall. Don’t look down is damn good advice. Filling out that form was the equivalent of looking down.
For a couple of days I struggled emotionally. I felt alone and adrift with no wind in my spiritual sails. Lurking in the depths and rocking my idealistic ship were old feelings of discouragement and unworthiness. After grappling with my beliefs, thoughts and feelings over the last few days, however, and continuing to feel so inspired and purposeful as I met with peers at Insight, something beautiful surfaced in my fertile psyche.
I started imagining a worldwide gathering—my neighbors, my fellow Americans, all the humans on the planet—in which every last one of us appeared as an infant or toddler. No adults whatsoever. I asked myself how I could possibly walk through that undulating mass of playing, laughing, crying, curious, unique, expectant, needy, lovable children and guess at or assign value or worth, higher and lower salaries, different social classes. I asked how I could dare to hold myself in lower or higher esteem than anyone else. And I couldn’t. I could not.
Next I pictured myself plopped down in a bizarre scene of impending, potentially world-ending doom, stuck in a storm or bomb shelter with the Koch Brothers, Alice Walton and Donald Trump. I looked around and asked myself which would be more valuable in the moment—their money or my inner peace? In that scenario I could easily see my own net worth through a different lens. Or put another way, my own net worthiness. My bottom line is that I value myself and others for who we are, not what we possess or our annual salaries.
I believe we are all absolutely equally worthy of respect, love and self-actualization. While it is unlikely that I can (or would care to) singlehandedly revamp a deteriorating and unbalanced economic system, I can continue to step aside from it and invest my own values and ideals into building something new and more sustainable. The obvious place to begin is upon a fresh foundation. I’ll start with the assumption that everyone on the planet has the same net worthiness, that time does not equal money, and that there is enough of everything that makes life worth our wholehearted investment.