Your Inherent Worth and Dignity by, Paige Carlson

2018 July 2
by DoMC

Your Inherent Worth and Dignity

Paige Carlson

July 1, 2018

Before I begin I just want to note that there are some adult themes in today’s homily, so if you are not comfortable with small children hearing these things, well, now you know.

Let’s start with something simple, something we as Unitarian Universalists all agree on: the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We strive to live our values. We see the inherent worth and dignity of every person around us. Many of us were raised with the maxim “treat others as you would wish to be treated.” This is a beautiful ideal. Unfortunately, this is not how the real world usually works.

About a decade ago I was in a really bad place. There was a lot going on in my life which I won’t get into too much detail about right now, but I ended up having to leave my job and I spent about a month in a day treatment program at Sheppard Pratt Psychiatric Center in Baltimore. I would arrive at the hospital around eight am on weekday mornings and leave at about 4pm. I learned a lot of coping mechanisms there: art therapy, meditation, and organization techniques to reduce anxiety. But the thing I remember most from my time there is the thing that every patient had in common: a chronic need to always put other people’s needs above of their own.

Almost every patient consistently did for others while neglecting themselves. For some this manifested in a work-life balance issue. For some their children were chauffeured to every event and dinner was on the table in the evening and there was somehow never any time left to breathe or read a book for twenty minutes. For others it was a romantic partner whose cruel words and treatment were accepted as gospel. I looked around that group therapy circle and time and again, week after week, I saw people who couldn’t see their own inherent worth and dignity.

I think that happens to almost all of us at some point or another: we lose track. We forget. We have inherent worth, too. Our dignity is as valuable as that of the people around us. The quote in your Order of Service today is a guidepost.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

Think about that for a second. Let it sink in.

You, too, deserve your love and affection.

One of the most common places I think many of us forget this simple fact is in relationships. It can be so easy, at every stage, to listen to that voice saying: the real you isn’t good enough. We put on disguises on first dates, plastering ourselves in makeup or wearing those pants that usually only ever come out of the closet for weddings. We pretend not to be bisexual because the person might not accept that. We pretend not to love Star Trek. We pretend not to have had a lot of casual sex. We pretend not to be a virgin. We wear push-up bras and use skin lightening creams. After those first dates, this tendency to hide doesn’t go away; it transforms.

We avoid having the important conversations, because what if they don’t go right? What if we’re no longer worthy of love? I do want to have kids, do you?  Or I don’t want to have kids, ever, is that alright? I watch pornography and think about other sexual partners, am I still feminine enough for you? I want to leave my job, will you support me? I have an eating disorder, do you still love me?

For me there is one person who has opened my eyes in a lot of ways to how we shut ourselves down in pursuit of relationships. How we sometimes value our partner or the idea of the relationship over ourselves in unhealthy ways. That person is advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage. Now, he is controversial, and purposefully so, but a lot of the time he hits the nail on the head. He has often said that the most frequent calls and letters he receives fall into one category: a person in a terrible relationship with someone who treats them poorly who cannot seem to break up with the person. He gets this call so frequently that he has an acronym: DTMFA. This stands for Dump the Mother F-er Already.

Just a side note: If you have never heard of Dan Savage or you are afraid to ask for what you want out of a relationship, I highly recommend making a project out of listening to a few episodes of the Savage Lovecast. For me it was life-changing. Back to the topic-

Recently I watched a close friend’s long-term relationship fall apart after about nine years. They had been intimate only a couple of times in the last five years, a fact she was not okay with. Another friend broke up with her boyfriend after it was revealed that they wanted drastically different futures that did not align, but she spent nearly a year drawing out the inevitable hoping that he would change his mind and want what she wanted. Both of these women are vibrant, intelligent, funny, and inherently worthy of love, but they lingered in these situations that made them, on various levels, miserable. If this sounds like you. If you have been waiting for someone to give you permission to leave a situation that is no longer healthy for you: then here it is. You are inherently worthy and you deserve to pursue your happiness.

For some of us the person we need to step away from might not be a significant other, and the separation might not be permanent, but simply an application of needed boundaries. Perhaps a friendship has become toxic or one-sided. It is alright to step back and focus on other aspects of your life for a while. Perhaps your sibling makes a habit of putting you down or manipulating you. Many of us focus our energy on the people who we call our “Chosen Family” consisting of the people who care for us mutually.

For me, I made a conscious decision to not visit my mother’s home for several years when her hoarding became a tinderbox issue between us always starting a blow-up fight. The distance and the conscious application of boundaries actually improved our relationship and gave her the space to deal with her problem at her own pace.

If what you’ve been doing hasn’t been working, especially if it has been in an effort to preserve others’ feelings at your own expense and it has been making you miserable, then try something new.

You deserve love. You deserve boundaries. You deserve to pursue happiness.

Our society isn’t always the best at letting us know we deserve these things. Going back to Mona Haydar’s insights, we often find ourselves attacked from all sides just for being who we are. “You aren’t Muslim enough, you aren’t Feminist enough, you aren’t practicing hijab the way I want you to.” People experiencing the intersectionality of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ageism, ableism, and other isms and phobias are in especially vulnerable positions. Haydar’s song referred to the racially charged beauty standards imposed on women of color. The #MeToo movement has made it clear that in all corners of our society women are harassed and made to feel unsafe in their bodies; we are constantly sexualized against our will, and yet shamed for having sexual desires.  Children are held in cages at our southern border largely because of the color of their skin and the language of their tongue. People of all genders are devalued for not making enough money in a consumer culture, to the point where their lives are put in the cross hairs in a system where healthcare is not considered a human right.

It can be easy for us to let all of this soak in. It can be easy to see that society does not value us, pays us 80% of what they pay a man*, 54% if we’re a Hispanic woman*

A society that is willing to allow employers to fire us based on our sexual orientation or gender expression.

A society that is willing to treat a woman over forty as if her life is over because her skin isn’t as tight as a twenty-year-old’s.

A society that is willing to cast us out of the country and into a war zone because we were born on the wrong side of an imaginary line,

And one that is willing to let us die because we can’t afford our insulin.

It can be easy to see all these ways society devalues us and make the leap that these injustices must somehow be justified. It can be easy to think that there must be something wrong with us.

As Haydar’s lyrics said “The personal IS so political.” Recognizing your own inherent worth and dignity is an act of defiance against a society that would com-modify our unhappiness. Stand up and pronounce yourself a “Beautiful Barbarian” if that is your authentic self. Love the person or persons of the gender expression you desire. Take time and energy to make yourself happy, not just others. Find a spiritual practice that makes you feel closer to the spirit of life, be it hijab, meditation, singing, ritual bathing, or prayer. And women, for God’s sake, masturbate. We deserve it.

Today I dare you to see yourself as worthy. I dare you to look in the mirror and see a person with inherent worth and dignity. I dare you to see someone beautiful, regardless of society’s whims.

We’re going to do a little exercise together. I want everyone to stand as they are able and put your hands on your hips like a superhero or up in the air like you are rejoicing and as loud as you can, shout after me:

“I am worthy!”

“I am wonderful!”

“I deserve to be treated well!”

And finally, shout something you admire about yourself, something that makes you proud to be you!

I am here to tell you today that you, too, are worthy of love and devotion. You, too, have inherent value. You, too, carry the light of the eternal, the stuff of stars, in your very existence. Always remember to let that light shine.


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