“If everyone matters, then no one does,” said Ayala, my eighteen-year old. “In order for one to matter more, doesn’t someone else have to matter less?” And in her mind, she was thinking about a celebrity YouTuber whose mattering feeds off audiences who willingly suspend their own relevance in deference to his.
Just so that you know, Ayala is the youngest in our family. Youngest children know, or at least somehow feel, that they matter. They have learned how to charm their way into, and out of, whatever they want. But even if she’d be deprived of her exclusive status, she would undoubtedly have her way with us, just as our other children do. Strict parents, we do not make.
To restate her question: If we all matter, can we matter equally? For the same reasons? She is struggling to understand the contemporary dialogue about mattering. Black lives matter/All lives matter; how did that conversation get so derailed? A simple, good concept that was meant to help one population ignited the fiery question for us all: Who gets to matter? And now we have been pushed further into a different dialogue: Does one group’s mattering come at the expense of another’s? This has left all of us wounded, and searching for yet a higher, deeper truth.
Thinking that one group’s mattering comes at the expense of another is the cause of chaos. The human heart pulses with the greatest, and greediest, of impulses. It can be selfless and selfish, inclusive and exclusive, expansive and divisive. As a society, we are collectively struggling to do both at the same time. To allow others their mattering, while ensuring that ours remains intact. This is human. Yet, when we can reach for a paradigm that allows for a lateral and loving existence, we can begin to envision a healthier path that upholds everyone to a greater degree. Its basic principle: One need not, cannot, and must not encroach on the value of another. Extending rights to one while taking them from another is called stealing, leaving us all the poorer.
I recall a recent conversation with a college instructor who admitted, abashedly, that the campus climate of elitism exists, for the ugliest of reasons, “If we have no one over whom we can feel superior, then we feel less than.” In discussing how students are selected, she revealed that making the admission process more competitive was the prime strategy for glorifying their institution. Maybe we all need an education of a different sort. First course offering: Life is Not a Competition.
This is not unlike a few teachers whom I encountered along my educational road. Those teachers were the ones who’d come into the classroom, with a heavy step and no smile, with every intention to intimidate the wit out of you. They’d say things that were designed to put them on ground that you’d best worship, if you wanted to matter in their class, i.e., to pass. Their “impeccably-high standards” and “rationing of A’s” had less to do with helping us achieve our potential than with making them feel they reached theirs.
As we grapple with this huge question of mattering, I hope we have a better answer than the one I gave my children who were repeatedly asking me, “Mommy, which one of your children do you love the most?” i.e., who matters the most?
I retorted, “I hate you all the same.” A joke, of course. But not the most intelligent or noble answer.