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We are stories, not statistics
I have a closet full of sequins, velvet, leopard, and exotic prints, a library of clothing that houses the story of my life. My favorite is a pucci-esque, midriff-baring halter top with matching silk chiffon palazzo pants. I bought the set 20 years ago, when my brother asked me to be the“ best person” in his wedding on Harbor Island. I loved it so much, I wore it years later to my own rehearsal dinner in Tulum, and then to friends rehearsal dinners as well. It lives in a corner of my closet, visited every so often by my 17 year old daughter, eagerly awaiting the occasion, and my permission to wear it.
Clothing has always been a vehicle of self expression for me, a tangible way to indulge my aesthetic sensibility. It’s not just about an outfit, it’s how it makes me feel. I would argue that the provenance and soul of this set is more valuable than the outfit itself; the feeling, memory and lived experience of wearing it all those times.
I have always centered value around the intangible, invisible, and embodied; the essence drawn from experiences, circumstances, and emotional states is what brings meaning to my life.
Our cultural yardstick of value is based on external indexes of worth like money, possessions, and accomplishments. We focus on strategies for “success”, instead of addressing the obstacles of being human, build an outer persona, without cultivating an inner life, and never, ever develop the art and gift of paying attention.
But we are stories, not statistics. Our lives cannot be broken up into bite size nuggets that are easily digested and understood, like metrics and numbers. “Of all the things that human beings make and do for each other, it is the unquantifiable ones that contribute most to human happiness”. The “unquantifiable” is what serves our deeper, more human universal needs ; it’s the social, emotional and cultural fabric that cultivates our inner riches.
There is a need for, and a level of comfort in the certitude of metrics, proven expertise, and tangible accomplishments, but it fosters a scarcity mindset that encourages us to consume more, produce more, work more, be more, scale more. There is always more, but somehow we are never enough. So we outsource our discomfort to busyness, become happiness junkies in need of a quick, material fix, and wonder why we feel lonely while glued to devices.
Maybe we should “look at achievement, not as the things that newspapers tell us it is, but as a species of mental illness. Those who put up skyscrapers, write the bestselling books, perform on stage, or make partner may, in fact, may be the unwell ones”.
ln her recent op-ed for the Washington Post, Rebecca Solnit asks, “What if we imagined “wealth” consisting not of the money we stuff into banks or the fossil-fuel-derived goods we pile up, but of joy, beauty, friendship, community, closeness to flourishing nature, to good food produced without abuse of labor? What if we were to think of wealth as security in our environments and societies, and as confidence in a viable future”?
Solnit posits an alternative, a more meaningful measure of value: the unquantifiable. She offers us a door to possibility, and the capacity for what if.
What if we measured emotions, lived experiences, showing up?
What if we could index grace, courage or belief in someone?
What if we invested in raising human beings and good citizens?
What if our wardrobes weren’t valued by the number of outfits we have, but the number of memories we have in an outfit?
What if ?
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