This series has been interrupted for a few months by my peripatetic lifestyle, but I am finally back at it. This blog explores the last of the six marks of personhood.
After this one, I will explore what role an individual has to take in the process of being placed in this office and what is up to God or others. But first, the sixth marker.
One of the most defining marks of personhood is a belief in the potential of a person and a celebration of that potential before it is revealed, as well as while it is being unpacked.
When my granddaughter, Samantha, was born we knew next to nothing about her potential. However, considering what I know about her father and mother, I had every reason to expect that she would be more rather than less, complex rather than simple, highly focused rather than a drifter, a builder not a consumer.
Now, as a point of fact, we did not KNOW that she would be any of these things, but the very fact that we assumed great things for her (whether she achieves them or not) was a loud proclamation of her personhood.
As she has grown, the conversations between her parents and grandparents have consistently been about each little thing that might reveal a clue about what the treasure in her might be.
Again, we don’t need to be right in our guesses. The very fact that we ASSUME she is special and eagerly examine the clues for validation of our theories is a mark of her personhood.
Recently Stephanie bought some colored plastic magnetic letters which she placed on the refrigerator door in reach of her daughter.
We, of course, see those as a means to communicate. Samantha saw them as a random mess to be sorted out and stored. So she systematically gathered up the red ones and hid them in one room, the blue ones in a separate stash, etc.
From that we suspect that she is a categorizing kind of person, and that color will be important to her. Is that a valid conclusion from one little vignette? Who knows? Check back in ten years and we will have a better answer.
But the fact that the adults in her world are constantly comparing notes on her behavior and making extrapolations based on the clues is a statement of her value as a person.
So far, she has not contributed much in a tangible sense (other than great joy) to the world around her. But because she is a person, we embrace the potential she has, before it becomes monetized or fungible.
It is normal through childhood to have frequent, varied confirmations of potential. When Dad buys a bicycle for you or when the teacher says you would do well in the school play, those are comments which envision your potential before it is unpacked.
Marriage is a huge statement of personhood as each individual envisions the other as being worth discovering over a lifetime.
Unfortunately, the validation of personhood tends to dwindle rapidly in our adult culture.
When you apply for a job, it is often a dehumanizing process as the application form is designed to surface all of your wrong choices and everything you failed to do for yourself or for others along the way. You are for the most part, simply a possible future economic unit, not a person, when you apply for a job.
How often has an application form asked you about areas of untapped potential in your design or expressed an interest in helping you become fully yourself, on company time? It happens, but it certainly is not the norm.
Few social encounters lend themselves to celebrating potential that is not yet manifest, yet occasionally it happens.
In the checkout of the grocery store the other day, I had an odd assembly of ingredients. The clerk asked what I was going to fix. As I explained that it was an experimental venture, she expressed confidence that I would be able to find a way to do the complex part well.
Hearing spontaneous expressions of belief in our ability is not very common for most of us.
There is one area where both God and other people indirectly express belief in our untapped potential and that is through the hard jobs they give us.
When your boss gives you the challenging job, it might be because he is mad at you, but it could also be because he thinks you are the most capable person on the team to solve this particular conundrum.
Similarly, I have learned over the past that when God sends me to do something that I don’t know how to do it is simply because He knows I have the potential within me, and He is using this situation to unpack that portion of me I have never developed before.
It is simply amazing how often He believes in me.
Copyright January 2012 by Arthur Burk
From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim