Back in the days when everything at the supermarket was individually priced, I used to love watching people as they labelled the produce with those plastic guns. It looked so satisfying to pull the trigger. With a quick clunk and swish the item had its value stuck onto it for all to see.
But I sometimes feel like the world is full of people with labeling guns. Clunk, swish – ready to price me up.
Because, our culture values us. By that I don’t mean, ‘thumbs up, you’re great’. I mean that it assesses us and decides our worth.
So there you sit on the shelf, smiling self-consciously as the man with the labeling gun sizes you up, glancing at his check-list and quantifies your value.
Attractiveness? Clunk, swish.
Education level? Clunk, swish.
Charisma? Clunk, swish.
Strength? Job title? Earning power? Social influence? Political savvy? Humour? Days out of action for ill health? Popularity? Clunk, swish.
And with that, you find yourself camouflaged by stickers. Covered with little white labels telling you, and everyone else, how much you’re worth.
When you have Down’s Syndrome, and look at the labels stuck onto you, you see that you are someone with little value. Because what do you have to offer society? It’s unlikely that you will gain incredible exam results and a University degree. It’s unlikely that you will be one of the movers and shakers in the political world. You will probably have a low-paid, menial job – if you work at all. Your body may be a little weaker and your power to influence others and take the lead is largely removed. Clunk, swish. You don’t add up to much.
Dave and I have found that our values have been reassessed and our labels have been replaced since having Mikey. Dave has had to move to a less demanding job in order to have time for Mikey. Clunk, swish. I am not using my degree, I make no money and my options for future work are limited by the needs of my son. Clunk, swish. We don’t add up to much.
So what do we conclude? Do we say (like the writers of the recent medical journal article) that because our value is small and our contribution is so little we should move aside and make way for someone who makes more financial sense?
When we live in a culture that values us in this way we despise the sick, the poor, the disabled, the weak, the dependent because they just take and never give. And we can get away with it.
Because these ones are worth less – they are worthless.
I am seeing this all the time at the moment and it scares me.
I’ve been reading Luke’s gospel recently and I’m just amazed by Jesus’ refreshing approach. Over and again people come to Jesus and show him their labels.
There’s the ones who wear their labels with great pride. “Look at me Jesus, I’m brilliant because I’ve got money”, or “because I’m so wonderfully religious”, or “because I’m powerful and important”. When Jesus meets this lot he painfully strips off their labels and says, “what are you now?”. And because all their value was in those labels posted by others and prized by themselves they are quiet and angry and deeply disturbed. Jesus leaves them scrabbling on the ground trying to find those price tags, desperate to find their meaning and see if it will stick back on.
But then others come to Jesus and show him their labels. Ashamed. “I’m not worth much, Jesus”, they say. “My body is a mess”, or “my life is ruined by my bad choices” or, “I am hated and lonely because I’ve treated others badly”. “I need you so much Jesus, but you’re better off staying away from me”.
To these worth-less ones Jesus gently removes the labels and cleans off the stickiness that’s been left behind. The labels are gone and Jesus smilingly says, “what are you now”? And with the labels gone their true value is revealed. They are prized by Jesus as they are transformed by him.
Having Mikey in our lives and in our family forces us to reassess and question the value that the world places on us. He has shown us that if we only value someone based on their contribution, we have missed the point entirely.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to plead the case for someone with Down’s Syndrome by saying, “oh, but he’s in mainstream school” or, “he’s going to get GCSEs” or, “he’ll get a job” but clunk, swish those are just labels that we stick on to try to make him matter more. I’m not saying this to do Mikey down or to suggest we’re not devoted to helping him fulfill his potential. But, even if Mikey remains in special school, never sits an exam, never earns a penny in his life he is tremendously and wonderfully valuable.
The labels cover him up and with every price tag placed on him a little of his intrinsic, God-given value is hidden from view.
We need to begin to peel off the labels that have encased our bodies and veiled our souls and see, unmasked, that we have value solely because we exist. Mikey has value, just like Dan and Jemima, just like me and Dave. Just like you. Because we are here. Created for this moment.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. That is enough.
This is a post in celebration of World Down’s Syndrome Day. If you would like to read what I wrote this time last year it is here. As always, please feel free to comment and to share.