Worth

Over these past few days, I, like many of you, have been struggling to find a way to respond to our president’s most recent comments about Africa and Haiti and about the monstrous ideology that his words - and the resounding silence of so many in response - represent. Countless others, including the spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have said much of what needs to be said far more eloquently than I likely could.

There are so many parts of this that are so egregiously wrong; it's hard to know where to begin. But in the midst of it all, there's one thing that I just have to say, eloquence be damned ..

There is no hierarchy of humanity, no test that one must pass to be worthy of recognition as a human being. The right to dignity is not conditional. Respect for life is not a zero sum game.

As happens in times like these, we jump to the defense of marginalized peoples by proclaiming, and encouraging them to proclaim, their achievements as proof of their worth. We hold up shining examples - luminaries in various fields: academics, athletes, activists - and their remarkable contributions to society become our argument for their value as human beings.

Years ago, I wrote the following:

What I inadvertently said so many times boiled down to this: While my daughter is autistic, she is not intellectually disabled, and therefore you should not discount her worth.
What I did not see was that I was lifting her on the backs of others.
It is now so painfully clear that it was an unconscionable and indefensible argument, but it's one into which many of us have been conditioned. We thrive on comparison. And we trade in its marketplace with the currency of human dignity.

My daughter's IQ has no more bearing on her value than whether or not a man from Haiti has a college education or a girl from Nigeria speaks four languages or a farmer in Sierra Leone has never learned to read.

And so I say again, there is no hierarchy of humanity, no test that one must pass to be worthy of recognition as a human being.

Our worth, individually and collectively, is not based on some magical formula quantifying our ability to participate in a capitalist economy. It's not determined by the titles we hold, the degrees we've earned, or the nations we call home. It's not contingent upon, well, anything.

Our worth is inherent.

And never, ever subject to comparison.

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