Recognition and Existence

One of the greatest indignities is to be treated as though you do not exist. Being is the most fundamental aspect of life and of self, one that precedes and is presupposed by all other aspects. To be something (smart, beautiful, kind, fearful, lonely, weak) is first and is always to be. If someone tells us, then, that we are beautiful, smart, good or noteworthy in some way, we are gratified, flattered, affirmed, perhaps happy. But if that same someone lets fall the thread of our being after the words have ceased their echo, those former words lose their meaning.

What is it to be beautiful or good if in the eyes of the other, in their presence or absence, we no longer exist? Being forgotten or unremembered, we internalize the feeling of not-being, and beauty or goodness bends to the experience of being unvalued. What we are all searching for is proof that we ourselves exist. Not in the sense of some dense philosophical argument or scientific evidence. Instead of seeking to know whether or not we actually exist, we seek to receive recognition that we exist, to feel acknowledged and noticed as a person- a particular person- and to experience all of the things that accompany this title.

In order to value another person- human to human- and to grant them dignity, we must first recognize them as a person- not as an example of people but as one person. The significance lies in this individuality and singularity. To feel valued, we do not need to be wholly understood, but to be given time and space. And if time and space are lovingly and freely given, then we can have confidence that the other recognizes that we exist: as a person with an unfathomably vast and unique array of joys, fears, hopes, insecurities, weaknesses and strengths. Afterwards, the affirmation can come that we, being a person, matter, and are beautiful, good, and so forth. But first, for affirmation to be valid, we must have this recognition as a person fully steeped in personhood and never as an object to be used, conditionally appreciated and then subsequently forgotten.