By Northshire UCS Director Peg Gregory
“We’re all people. It doesn’t matter if you’re two, thirty-two, or ninety-two. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Everyone wants to feel like they matter in this world.” ― Megan McCafferty, Charmed Thirds
Why does mattering, well, matter so much? I began to ponder this conundrum after attending the delightful “I Matter — You Matter” day sponsored by the You Are Never Alone Foundation, founded by the equally delightful Salley Gibney. It was more than cabin fever that brought this crowd out on a chilly March afternoon. This was a party. The walls of the venue were lined with thousands of written examples of caring actions collected over the previous months by hundreds of individuals from around the area and people of all ages had come together to celebrate these actions and the simple idea that we all matter.
I think it is telling that “matter” is both a verb and a noun. The term connotes both “to be of importance” and “something that occupies space and can be perceived by the senses”. It’s as though unless we experience ourselves as mattering to others, we don’t have a sense of existing in the world, of having matter. Without being of value to others, we find it difficult to feel solid and real. In order to experience ourselves as having matter we have to have the experience of mattering.
The social sciences are full of examples of how being disconnected or lacking a sense of validation can result in tragic outcomes. “Failure to thrive” is a phrase coined to describe the phenomena in which otherwise healthy babies die due to a lack of touch, even when their basic needs are met. Some cultures use “shunning” as punishment for those who break the rules. Shunning causes psychological damage and has been categorized as torture.
After each new episode of senseless violence plays out on the evening news, in what’s beginning to feel like an endless progression, I find myself expecting the inevitable description of the perpetrator as “a loner”. So often what emerges in the wake of such horrific acts is the portrait of someone who essentially didn’t seem to matter. In stark contrast to the ideals being celebrated in the You Are Never Alone Foundation, it appears that if disconnected enough, people can develop the idea that “I Don’t Matter, You Don’t Matter”.
In the magical imagery and profound words of Margery Williams, author of The Velveteen Rabbit:
“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
I think there is great wisdom in the understanding that we can tolerate a lot; a lot of pain, disappointment, frustration, as long as we know we are loved, that we matter. Without that, we are thin skinned indeed and our capacity to tolerate the inevitable distress in life is severely compromised.
Looking around the room at the “I Matter You Matter” event, I wondered what kind of world we would live in, and what the evening news would look like, if we lived in a world in which everyone knew that they mattered. A community where everyone had a felt sense of being real.
Where does your sense of mattering come from? Do you value and nurture those sources? Do you recognize how the connections you have help you to feel solid and real and strengthen your capacity to cope? And how are you doing to demonstrate to the people in your life, that they matter? Not just those you love, but also those you could easily overlook. This doesn’t mean you have to befriend everyone. It could be as simple as looking – really looking at the person who bags your groceries, mows your lawn, or picks up your trash. It’s easy to see their function, but not always easy to see their humanity.
I encourage you to try it. To really connect with the many people you encounter in a variety of roles every day. The message is simple but profound, “You exist, you are real, you matter.” You may find in so doing you experience mattering more yourself.