For the last several years I have worked with adjudicated adolescents in drug and alcohol treatment. Their struggles are often intensified by or correlate to their addiction. Crime, gang involvement, familial problems, and other issues also contribute to their situation. I often hear statements that demonstrate their feelings of low self worth. Comments such as, “I don’t care if I die. I am a criminal. I have nothing to offer,” among others. Their demeanor, how they treat themselves and others, shows signs of what is known as “vacant esteem”. If esteem is our belief about our own value, vacant esteem denotes a negative view of one’s value.
I view these youths’ perceptions of themselves as part of widespread, not isolated, issue. Somewhere in the fray of our existence on this earth, we have come to regard worth as something to be measured, not something to be affirmed. It is evident in our current society, culture, and communities. From perceptions of beauty, wealth, family expectations, relationships, among others, we form in this understanding. It does nothing but tear us down. This way of devaluing is in direct contradiction to the message Christ has for us. For we believe that the worth of persons in great in the sight of God (Doctrine and Covenants 162: 6a). Nothing can change that.
Human issues are complicated, solutions even more so. However, in the midst of it all, I have taken to heart that the practice of recognizing that the worth of all people is a practical and spiritual necessity to help people heal. Through my education, scripture study, prayer, and social work experiences, I have begun to understand not only how to affirm worth in others, but also its extreme importance.
“For in their welfare resides my welfare” (Doctrine and Covenants 163: 4a). We are not separated, but we are connected. When I see these youth hurting, I recognize that something is grossly wrong, and I cannot ignore that. Their worth, which encompasses all that they are and are created for, is part of who I am as well. I have worth too, and it is our God which affirms that worth within us. It is our community, made up of all of us, which is responsible for affirming the worth of others. I have been able to see what happens in someone’s life when they recognize their worth. It creates a sense of joy within me, for we are meant to understand our worth. As a church, a culture, communities, and individuals we cannot live passive lives of ignorance. We must open our eyes to see the destructive nature of vacant esteem, and we must fight that which creates it. It requires us to look within and without. And it requires us to make changes that will truly affirm the worth of all persons we encounter.
I hope and pray that our world will realize this and begin the process of affirming.
Enduring Principle: Worth of All Persons
– God views all people as having inestimable and equal worth.
– God wants all people to experience wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.
– We seek to uphold and restore the worth of all people individually and in community, challenging unjust systems that diminish human worth.
– We join with Jesus Christ in bringing good news to the poor, sick, captive, and oppressed.
Read the “We Share Document” with our 9 Enduring Principles.
Rachel Mills lives with her husband outside of Portland, OR. She is currently getting her Masters in Social Work at Portland State University. She is involved in various ministries within her congregation and the Greater Pacific Northwest Mission Center. When she is not outdoors she is reading or cooking.
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