What is valuable?

What does the term “valuable” mean to you? It amazes and mystifies me that my definition of what is valuable can, in certain ways, change on a dime. The same goes for society’s definition. Whether it’s the perception of an individual, a family, or a collective society, reevaluation of what is valuable is changing—fast.


I suppose that, initially, a lot of value came from the rarity of an object. For pioneers and early settlers of the US, it took numerous man hours to produce a single piece of furniture, so pieces were handed down from one generation to the next for the practical purposes they served and the fact that they were hard to come by.


Fast forward a century or two, longtime antique dealers in Georgetown are going out of business because the demand for dark wood, colonial furniture has been replaced by the desirability of mid-century modern. What happened? Does this mean that the value previously accorded to these dark wood pieces was false? Was it some version of now discarded sentimentality that made these pieces precious to purchasers? And, what sort of augur does this shift represent such that these antiques are no longer cherished? After all, it’s just décor…isn’t it?


Why do we hold onto things? Why do we hold onto fixed ideas or expectations? What is it about them that makes us value them? Do we really hold them in such esteem or is it because somebody else told us one thing is of little value and another is worthwhile?  How extensive is the reach of this question in your life?


We’re told to value family relationships—and for very good reason…mostly. But what about the relative who has no interest in you or your life? Why do you continue to want to value them? What about marriage? In a society where women can provide for themselves, why does the formalized union of two people continue to have value? And is that value limited to marriages involving small children? An easier example is the message we’ve all received about how a major cornerstone of adulthood and society is home ownership. But, why does something like ownership necessarily equate to qualities like responsibility and maturity? A major element of our nation’s economic meltdown is related to people who leveraged themselves way above what they could afford, for the express purpose of appearing “successful,” when the real success story is the person who lives a dignified life within their means.


And, further, why is it so hard to change our perception of what is valuable? If you’ve lived your life with an antique chair that you never sit in, have to treat with kid gloves, and you once thought is beautiful, but now has no practical place in your life? Just because it isn’t practical, is it no longer of value? Or, was your original perception of value in error?


What is value based on? Why and under what circumstances do we change that definition? Does that say more about the valued object or about us? When re-booting our lives, we need to be prepared to challenge our old perceptions and to test them for current validity. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you coasting on old, unchallenged beliefs? What relevance do they have in your life now? Do these longstanding values continue to hold their worth? If so, why? If not, what makes sense for your life today?


Clearing away some of the cobwebs surrounding such ideas can help you streamline who you are and how you are living your life. It can enhance your flexibility which comes in handy as life has a funny way of changing on a dime. The questions I am posing are considerable and may feel threatening, but this is just for you to play with, to mull over in the privacy of your thoughts. You may be surprised by what you discover. 


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