I recently spoke with a beloved friend experiencing emotional pain due to a family interaction. Her sentiments were familiar. This interaction was similar to an older one, and it brought forth latent feelings of ontological insignificance.
“I don’t matter.”
Isn’t this something we can all understand? People treat us badly. They brush us aside. They lash out, ignore us, make us the problem, blame us, gaslight us, talk about us behind our backs, and the like, and we get hurt. Sometimes profoundly. And, we’re left wondering why. Don’t they know that we matter, too? Don’t we? We matter, right? Right? Right…?
I thought about it. Is it possible to explain that we are indeed significant and valuable even in the context of mistreatment, neglect, and abuse? What might drive that point home?
This painting sat in a Norwegian industrialist’s attic for six decades after he was told by the French Ambassador to Sweden that it was a fake. Boom. There it is. It was not authenticated. It was indeed a genuine work of Van Gogh’s, but Mr. French Ambassador, mistaken, gave the wrong information to Mr. Mustad, the Norwegian industrialist, causing him to feel great shame for buying a fake, thus, motivating him to hide the allegedly forged painting in his attic for over sixty years. It’s all very dramatic.
What an incredible story! Can you imagine being the one to stumble across a missing Van Gogh in your relative’s attic? That would be the find of the century, and, in this case, it was. The art world went crazy. The angels sang. Curators wept. The story of the return of the missing Van Gogh ran in newspapers all over the world. And, the questions on everyone’s minds were, “What kind of derp declares an authentic Van Gogh a fake? Who hides a genuine Van Gogh in their attic for over half a century?” The French Ambassador to Sweden and a Norwegian industrialist apparently.
The obvious point here is that everyone can grasp that even though the painting was neglected, ignored, and even misjudged, its value and significance were always intact even if it wasn’t immediately recognized. This painting mattered even though it remained in an attic for sixty years. No one said, “Maybe the painting isn’t really valuable. I mean, it was stored in an attic. Only worthless things are stored in attics.” Upon hearing this story, the general population understood that the problem was with the people who did not recognize what they had–not with the painting itself. Once the painting was free of the family who owned it and in the hands of well-trained curators, its origins were recognized, and it took its rightful place in the catalog of Vincent Van Gogh’s works.
How does this apply to us? Well, so often when we are mistreated we assume, as do others, that the problem lies with us when the problem really lies with the people mistreating us. We believe that a person would only neglect or mistreat us if we lacked value or mattered little when the truth is that people mistreat others because they have a broken moral compass.
Our value is never to be questioned. NEVER. Just because a person doesn’t recognize our worth, our potential, or our significance doesn’t mean that we lack it. It simply means that the person with whom we are interacting may have issues of their own, and we may need to seek out more supportive people who see us more clearly. Like the curators who recognized the Van Gogh for what it was, we need to surround ourselves with people who see us for who we are. Many paintings come to museums in need of restoration. Their value is highly significant to the art world, but they are not ready for display. There are people highly trained in restoration, and those people painstakingly restore these works of art so that one day these historically significant pieces will be put on display for the world to see. We are really no different. All of us are significant and in need of restoration. Just like these paintings, the degree to which we need to be restored does not detract from our value or significance.
Part of that restoration process is getting rid of the French Ambassadors who would declare you a worthless fake and the Norwegian industrialists who would be embarrassed by you and neglect and hide you away. These are unsafe people who hinder and deceive us.
As part of your restoration process, ponder the idea of being priceless. How might you think differently and, thus, treat yourself and others if you truly believed that you were significant and truly valuable? That this was never up for grabs. And, because this is fun, if you were a work of art, what would you be? Would you be a work of impressionism, pointillism, fauvism, cubism, classicism, mannerism, the baroque? Would you be a Rodin or even an architectural piece by someone like Brunelleschi or Michelangelo? How would you express yourself and worth in art form? This is important because works of art are often viewed as priceless even when they’re badly damaged, and, if we can view ourselves objectively as priceless, then we can begin to internalize this truth. Once we see ourselves as such, it’s easier to see where we have believed the lie that we don’t matter and are worthy of mistreatment. If a piece of art deserves careful treatment and respect, then how much more does a person?
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Thomas Merton
The Collection of Art at The Hermitage–a virtual tour of the collection on display at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. I had the privilege of visiting this museum. It is well worth visiting even if it’s just virtually.