Every person matters. This truth is core to who we are at Signal Hill. It is the foundation and aim of all our programs. It shapes every interaction we have. And it is the DNA of the culture we are trying to help create for our society. In short, it’s kind of a big deal for us.
Because it’s so important, we want to address a few value myths that our culture has about human value.
As we tell our students, a value myth is something that we internally believe that isn’t true but reinforces negative patterns in how we think and act. Often, value myths differ from place to place and society to society, and it’s not very hard to think of them. Some you may be familiar with are:
- People with college degrees are more respectable, competent, or likely to succeed than those without one.
- You are stronger or better if you can do something independently than if you need help from others.
- Being vulnerable is a sign of weakness
Some value myths, however, transcend particular groups or cultures and can be found anywhere. At Signal Hill, we’ve identified two especially common ones, both of which deal directly with how we see ourselves and others. We’ll take a look at each and then respond with the truth that we at Signal Hill teach and practice.
MYTH 1: Some people don’t matter
As many mental health professionals will tell you, ground zero for this value myth is the belief we have about our own value. And it comes in many forms. Maybe someone said hurtful things about us that’s never left us, and that, despite our best efforts, we still continue to believe today. It could be a family member who made a passing comment about our still being single after age 30, a kid in our grade calling us fat, a boss who made us feel inferior or incompetent, or a spouse wanting to leave us for someone else. Regardless of what is said or done, our take-away is often the same: we don’t matter as we are.
Often, however, our self-worth is the casualty of our own negative self-talk, independent of our experience with others. How often do we measure our value based on what we are not? Maybe it’s an addiction we tried to overcome but then relapsed, or a test we took but then failed. The shame committee in our brain jumps on it telling us that because we failed, we are a failure.
When this myth comes to how we think of others, it too often masquerades in other forms, though it usually can be caught in the act of “us/them” language. There’s us and our clan and then there’s those people – “those people who live differently than us” or “those people who are a drain on our tax system.”
It might be anyone, though its typically people who make us angry or uncomfortable and who we think the world would be better off without. In any event, it’s a case of them and not us.
Fully matured, this value myth is especially destructive. From slavery to the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide, this myth has been the cause of the deaths of millions of people. It might seem harmless at first, but don’t be mistaken: It’s a parasite that, when fully grown, destroys lives, communities, and entire cultures.
Fact Check: No matter what we think about ourselves or others, the reality is that every person, from the youngest to the oldest and everyone in-between, has inherent value. Those we love and the those we most despite have equal value as human beings.
It can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if we’ve been hurt by others, but the moment we let this truth slide we start creating loopholes that allow us to treat ourselves and others less than pricelessly amazing. There is no “us” and “them” difference in value, but rather an equality of worth. Indeed, the world depends on it.
The first sentence of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights says it best: “[T]he inherent dignity and … the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
MYTH 2: Human value is conditional
A.K.A. You are worth more or less based on your achievements, failures, looks, grades, status, smarts, popularity, and the values of your community or culture.
This myth has been practically tattooed onto our minds since we were born. Like the flu, it’s always been around (well maybe not the flu, as that only originated around 1918), but if mental health trends have anything to say, it’s been particularly bad these last 20 years, especially for young people. Why? Because of the triple threat of smart technology, social media, and the internet. People are now always accessible, trained to see themselves as personal brands, and build relationships via comparison-encouraging platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.).
Unsurprisingly, the message that our lives will be better if we have the right things is also baked into the world of advertisements. It is estimated that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day. Today it’s up to 5,000. And all of them are telling us the same type of thing: Our lives will be worthwhile and enviable if we use the right perfume, can travel to exotic locations without children, and wear coloured socks (a metaphor for driving the right car).
In every form it comes, this myth tells us that our value can increase, decrease, and even disappear entirely. We want to be important, to be special, and to be loved, so it makes sense that we’re so easily sold the idea that our value is attached to the approval of others. Like a report card, the approval becomes the benchmark of our felt-worthiness.
Fact Check: Human value is unconditional – It can’t be increased or diminished, given or taken away, earned or bought. Every person without distinction is unconditionally priceless. This point can’t be underlined enough. The moment we lose it is the moment the first myth is born, which, as we’ve already seen leads to immense suffering and destruction for ourselves and others.
How different would our society look if we not only believed, but actively promoted the truth that every person matters and that human value is unconditional? Our purpose at Signal Hill is to shift culture so that this question doesn’t have to be asked because it’s already a reality. There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes every person to change a culture. Join us in our mission to do just that.