By Mark Azzara
I am writing this letter, having completed my book manuscript and now confronting the not-at-all-easy task of getting it published, because I wanted to share with you an important question related to this work.
I had to ask myself recently if I am satisfied by what I have produced.
That’s an odd question because of its double meaning. It could mean, “Am I satisfied with the value of my product?” or “Am I satisfied with myself as the one who has produced something of value?”
And this leads to the even more challenging question. Who, or what, am I? Is my identity based primarily or exclusively on what I am/produce, or do I identify myself on the basis of who I am, regardless of what, if anything, I produce?
I’m not trying to be overly philosophical. I am asking a serious question that applies to everyone because, as I look at the road to (possible) publication that lies ahead, I notice that a lot of other people are on that road with me.
It’s been estimated that 6 million Americans are working on a manuscript at any one time. That’s why bookstores carry so many books about how to write and get published. But do the readers of those books identify themselves primarily as “authors” or is writing, as with me, merely one more thing they do?
I look at myself for “who” I am. Writing is but one small facet of who I am. I have a gift for writing and I want to use it as best I can, whether in this column, writing a book, or anything else. But I am troubled because my observations of online writing sites is that writing is the only thing some people think about.
What troubles me is that those who view themselves primarily for what they are and/or produce wind up excluding the essentials from their lives. When we shove our relationships – with spouses, children, parents, neighbors, coworkers or larger communities – into the background in order to pursue whatever gives us fulfillment then we devalue not only ourselves but those around us.
We devalue relationships, in other words. At that point we become like Midas, who turned everyone in his life into a thing because the thing he valued, gold, was more important than anyone.
I don’t want to be known for what I write, nor do I want to value anyone more highly (or disregard that person) on the basis of what they do and/or produce.
I’ve learned that lesson while volunteering at a soup kitchen a few times each month. I came in there with all kinds of attitudes but now I am seeing that there is much more to our dinner “guests” than the clothes they wear or their behaviors, no matter how noxious some of those behaviors may be. I am starting to look at them for who they are rather than what.
Treating somebody as a “who” rather than a “what” has profound implications for society. It’s what the #MeToo Movement is all about. Women are now so fed up with being objectified that they are protesting, often quite loudly. But it will take more than such protests to correct the underlying attitudes.
That’s what my question is all about. It addresses whether I see myself or anyone else as a thing (i.e., a “what”) or as a person, a “who.” It is a question that each of us, man and woman, young and old, rich and poor, must ask. And answer! Warning: The answer isn’t likely to be uplifting.
All of us are guilty of treating others for what they are rather than who. So we all need to “repent” – a word from the Latin that means a serious change of thinking that leads to a substantial change of conduct.
This is why Jesus commands us in Matthew 7:1-5 to clean up our own acts rather than demand that others clean up their acts first. He ultimately commands us in John 15:12 to “love another as I have loved you.” And how did Jesus love us in this physical life? By ALWAYS seeing people for who they are rather than what they are.
Mere things don’t require or deserve dignity. People do. And only when we start to treat others as “who” rather than “what” will we begin to see and reflect the dignity that all of us deserve.
All God’s blessings – Mark