I don’t understand art. I mean real art. I can look at the Mona Lisa or a Rembrandt and think it is beautiful and interesting, but I marvel that a piece could cost millions of dollars. I realize it’s my own ignorance, and you may be aghast at my apparent lack of couth. I recently read about someone who toured Milan, Italy and was fortunate enough to buy a ticket to view the famed “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. She was herded with a few others through a cordoned area and given exactly 15 minutes to view this piece which is valued at over $15 million. What makes it worth that much? The painter himself? The subject matter? The impeccable colors and medium? That it had survived several wars, human error, and time in general? Who has the right to ascribe worth to art, or things, or for that matter, human beings?
I graduated from college in English literature just a few years ago. Ok…a lot of years ago. I remember reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. We laughed at Jay Gatsby’s obsession with wealth and the shallow characters who judged others by their self-imposed class system. But haven’t we always had classes and codes? Back in the ’70’s, this is what made you cool: a Pontiac Trans-Am, a Bada haircut for guys, Farrah Fawcett hair for girls, the wider your bell bottoms the better, and dangerously high platform shoes. Now I ask you, if you saw someone walking (or boogieing) down the street in that getup, would you think, “That dude is far out”? Probably! Because “far out” doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did then! We are mostly unaware that we all apply codes or markers to judge the worth of others separating the “hots” from the “nots”. What kind of cell phone do they have? What car do they drive? What size jeans do they wear? What kind of laptop do they use?
You are your possessions?
On a flight to Florida one morning, I may have been eavesdropping and overheard someone talking to the stranger next to him about what he did for a living. He talked about his vast portfolio, his home in Aspen, and his financial wealth. I thought, “Wow! If my worth is judged by that stuff, I’m in big trouble.” But I cringed at having judged in like manner. It was on this same flight that a girl kept staring at my Coach purse safely tucked underneath the seat in front of me. She asked, “Is that a Coach purse?” A little embarrassed at my opulence, I answered, “Why yes, it is.” She then went on to tell me that she only purchases Louis Vuitton, or Bottega Veneta, or Fendi as if Coach was the dollar store brand of bags. I was bugged the rest of the flight, but was strangely envious. How dumb is that?
Whether you want to admit it or not, it is human to judge and ascribe value to others by what they look like, the things they do, etc. Why? We value what is most like us and we basically “fear what we don’t know.” We don’t like the feeling of being less than someone else, so we attempt to elevate ourselves by labeling others according to our prescribed standards. This is a pretty simple explanation of what has caused war, bondage, slavery, death and carnage throughout the ages. “Those people act differently than me. They dress different, have different opinions, therefore, I must destroy.” We do this through ridicule, slander, gossip, even violence in some cases. How do these false systems start? Generally they are created by humans to, more often than not, benefit thems elves.
Look at how styles, fashion, furniture, automobiles, etc. change so quickly. Why? Because once you have the latest and greatest, those who create these systems must change and update to keep feeding and maintaining their own financial, social, or emotional worth. They create a change and then tell you that you MUST have it now! How else do you explain any new Apple product or video game? Case in point: a few months ago, these women’s shoes came on the market that look like booties which cover most of the top of the foot and are adorned with weird straps. I thought they were the most hideous and atrocious shoe I’d ever seen. Six months later, I had two pair. The flesh is weak, what can I say?
Youth Pay the Price
One of the most dangerous and detrimental aspects of these false and man-made systems is what it does to our youth; especially in the beauty field. You have to fit in to this little box or you’re worthless. You have to look “Forever 21”, be a size 2, have perfect skin, teeth, body structure, and appear super perky and happy at all times while donning the perfect updated wardrobe. Just scroll through Facebook to see the affects. Expressions of self-loathing and doubt are endless. The Prozac and anti-depressant crowd are making a fortune off of those who stress about being perfect.
Our obsession with fitting in to what a few say is acceptable, is horrifying. I get daily Groupons through email. A large majority are dedicated to improving some physical imperfection: Botox and Dysport injections, expensive weight loss programs, extreme plastic surgery procedures. And these are the content of many of the television shows that promote this garbage! One of my favorite shows is “The Biggest Loser.” As I’m plopped on the couch with my husband, eating obscenely large bowls of ice cream, we watch these valiant souls battle obesity. Last season, the winner shocked the nation as she appeared in the finals. Skinny? Oh yea. Frighteningly so. She looked old, haggard, and awful, and like she smoked two packs a day. All three trainers gasped at the extreme weight loss. She seemed taken aback. Her surprised face screamed, “Isn’t this what you begged for America? Didn’t you want to see me emaciated and gaunt as a result of this four month torture?” So why do we watch this stuff? To escape our own simple lives because some insignificant person we will never meet spends millions of dollars to convince us that our lives are boring and incomplete without their product.
Your job as a member of the human family
Well I beg to differ. Every living human being has great worth and is precious to someone just because they exist. Not because they have great wealth, a vast portfolio, they’re an Olympic skater, or a size 2. But just because they are. The worth of just one soul is more “precious than diamonds” a wise man once said. My daughter recently sent me a little video of her three month old baby Rosie. She was repeating over and over to this precious angel one of my favorite lines from The Help. “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” Little Rosie’s eyes lit as she cooed back at the sound of her loving mother’s sweet voice, assuring her that she is of great worth, loved, and wanted. One of life’s tragedies is to watch a small child look in the mirror with a light in her eyes as she tells the girl smiling back at her, “You’re the most beautiful princess!” But somehow through the years, that light begins to fade and is often snuffed out as she begins to believe otherwise. Why?
Everyone has infinite worth and importance. Our job as members of the human race, and especially as Americans, is to validate the worth of those souls within our circle. Can we put aside our own insecurities and reach out to make someone feel that worth? It takes so little. A quick “hello”, a handwritten note, a sincere compliment, a warm hug, an “I love you”. These cost practically nothing, but are priceless to the giver as well as the receiver. How have seemingly small acts validated your worth? What are you worth? I dare you to find out, and help others to do the same. C’mon America! That’s better than a Louis Vuitton any day!