[Forgive me, for this will be a rather messy post. Emotions are complicated, and it’s difficult for me to discern my own emotional philosophy at times.]
Before I start, I think I should state my concepts of “value” and “worth” because they have such similar implications. According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, “value, worth imply intrinsic excellence or desirability. [However,] Value is that quality of anything which renders it desirable or useful. Worth implies especially spiritual qualities of mind and character or moral excellence.” [I will always have issues with concepts that are placed on a moral scale, but that is an argument for another time.]
I have some serious issues with the connotations of “owing” and “worth” when they pertain to people. Perhaps it is because I have issues with the socially constructed term “commitment” as well . As a good friend pointed out, my greatest fear is to be confined. Quantizing the worth of a person or relationship is certainly confining to me. The value of a person or relationship should not be quantized. Relationships–at least meaningful ones–are so much more than a payment style of interactions. I feel that just because I become involved with someone in any manner (emotionally, mentally, physically), it does not mean I owe him/her parts of myself. And vice versa. The other person, also, should not feel that he/she owes me something–love and affection, parts of himself/herself, or otherwise. People are whole parts unto themselves. Pieces of his/her truth must be freely given. And I will treasure what is willingly volunteered. But have an understanding that although the parts I end up volunteering of myself are given as a sign of trust, the other person is not entitled to the majority of myself. The same goes for him/her.
Want is a whole other territory. Me wanting to give someone my affection, time, and loyalty is just that. I believe that to be unconditional on my part. And while I cannot predict the future, I can currently say that with conviction. But more importantly, the other person does not owe me any affection, time, loyalty, etc. in return. It would be much appreciated if they were returned, but it is not a condition of my own choice to give them to someone. Which is a rather true statement of my contradictory nature I think, for I am a major believer in reciprocation. If someone does something for me, I feel an urge to do something in return. Because “it’s only fair” as they say. And I would hate for someone else to put in effort without putting in my own effort.
I guess in the end, it’s all about putting in the work for something of personal import. But with a mental framework of willingness rather obligation. I actually severely dislike it when people exclaim “you’re working so hard!” about my academic work ethic. And I don’t like it any better when it is in reference to a relationship. When it comes to academia, I don’t feel that I work hard at all. Rather, I feel that I have a willingness to do what needs to be done in order to get where I want to be in life in the future. Not to mention, to produce a result that I feel is fulfilling. [I would normally say “worthwhile,” but I having enough issues with the concept of worth at the moment.] For this, I believe that I am giving value to my academic choices. But back to “work” in a relationship. I believe that to be the compromises that people are willing to make. Again, my stress on willingness–a willingness to set or shift boundaries, a willingness to voice concerns, a willingness to have frank discussion. Anyone who I am involved with does not owe me this; he/she must, rather, consent to interact with me in this manner. After all, promises and platitudes are all good and well, but they are nothing without the explicit consent of the person making them.
The topics of “worth” and “owing” has come up often enough in my life lately that I felt an urge to jot down my thoughts on them. That and having just finished The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua had remarked that “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything…[and that] the understanding is that Chinese children must spend the rest of their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud” (Chua, 52). Maybe it’s some latent teenage rebellion rearing its head, but I vehemently disagree with that sentiment. I can certainly feel gratitude towards my parents for pushing me to succeed (although, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell…), but there is a huge difference between gratitude and obligation.
So there’s my take so far on my personal interactions at the moment.