So What Do You Do?
photo by *Clairity*
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What’s more important, who you are or what you do? These need not be incompatible but it seems that we often emphasize one over the other. Judging by our North American culture, what do you think we value more about people: who they are or what they do?

I was recently reading about the story of a man who was involved in a community organization that was heavily program and task-driven in its culture, a reflection of our wider North American culture. He came across an older couple in the organization who didn’t seem to be nearly as involved in programs and events as the rest of the people were. He thought maybe it was because they were less committed to the cause. But then he actually met them, got to know them, and was struck by the quality of their character, their marriage relationship, and their integrity. In meeting them he came to appreciate more who they were than what they did for the organization.

What do you do?

We live in a results-driven, achievement-oriented culture. This can be most easily seen in the first question we naturally ask people when we meet them for the first time: what do you do? Even though we may do it unconsciously, I think we ask this question because we deem it the first and most important thing to know about the person. Yes, we can say it doesn’t really matter what their answer is, and that we’ll view them just the same, but let’s admit it: we size them up anyway. We make value judgements about them based on how esteemed their work is in our eyes. I know this because I have done this many times. I have made assumptions of someone’s character based on what they did before I even really got to know the person. In doing this, I unfairly judged their motives and character which I did not have the complete picture, nor authority to do.

What would it look like to appreciate people for who they are before knowing what they do?

It would mean recognizing their intrinsic human dignity before noticing the way they dress. It would mean understanding where they came from before assessing where they are going. It would mean appreciating the integrity of their work before the quantity of their work.

Do you think our cultural emphasis on what people do distracts us from appreciating who others are? Do you have an example you would like to share?

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