You Are More Important Than You Think

COMMENTARY: ‘Man alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life ... This is the fundamental reason for his dignity. Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” (CCC 356)

It is a terrible act of injustice to divide the human race into those who are important and those who are not.
It is a terrible act of injustice to divide the human race into those who are important and those who are not. (photo: Maurotoro / Shutterstock)
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. ... There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
— C.S. Lewis' Weight of Glory

Ranking people according to their relative “importance” may be more invidious than racism. Nonetheless, the urge to rank people in this fashion seems to be irresistible for those who are inveterate list-makers. 

According to one list of “The Hundred Most Important People in History,” Oscar Wilde and Richard Nixon are more important than Dante, Michelangelo, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. John Paul II. Elvis Presley is deemed more important than all of them. And Sts. Augustine, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are omitted from the list entirely.

While this particular ranking may suffer from extreme subjectivity as well as ignorance of history, it is the idea that one person can be more important than another that should come under scrutiny. 

Can there be unimportant people? Is any human being truly unimportant? G.K. Chesterton once remarked that there are no “trash bins in heaven.” God does not make junk.

Being “important” is different from being “influential,” for it focuses on the essence of the person and not how he happens to affect others. From the Christian point of view, each one of us is, in a special way, important. And it is important to know this since Christians live in hope and do not wallow in despair.

A person may be unknown, uncelebrated, ignored, underappreciated or forgotten. But it can never be said that he is “unimportant.” We are each important, and even more important than we think. Therefore, we should never envy another for his alleged importance in the world, but attend to our own God-given importance. The most important things are performed in obscurity.

Chesterton stated that determining the guilt or innocence of men “is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. ... When [civilization] wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing around. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.”

The distinguished British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge said, “The most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves — the mating of the sexes, the rearing of children, the laws of the state. This is democracy, and in this I have always believed.” Democracy is built on the premise that every person, and every vote, is important.

The case can be easily made that Arthur Rubenstein was a very important person. He was, in the estimation of critics, the foremost interpreter of romantic music for the piano of the 20th century. His interpretations of the music of Chopin were without peer. He spoke eight languages, hobnobbed with the elite, appeared in motion pictures, and continued giving concerts until he was 89 years of age.

As important as Rubenstein was on the world stage, his life was almost erased before he was born. He opens his lengthy autobiography with the following comment: 

“I was utterly unwanted by my parents, and if it hadn’t been for the enthusiastic persuasion of my aunt Salomea Meyer, my intrusion into this valley of suffering might have been prevented.”

The paradox here is that the importance of Rubenstein’s career only magnified the importance of the relatively unimportant person who saved his life. The importance of Salomea Meyer cannot be questioned — though, from the world’s viewpoint, she was as invisible as a guardian angel.

Rubenstein spent a considerable portion of his life hearing applause, that human convention expressing appreciation and gratitude. Every one of us who was ever touched by his performances, either live or through his innumerable recordings, feels a certain gratitude to Rubenstein for giving us something that we could not have gotten ourselves. 

But the applause also belongs to Aunt Salomea Meyer for her role in making Rubenstein’s entrance into the world possible.

We can express our gratitude to her for being an important person who possessed a clear appreciation of the importance of every human being, including those who reside in the womb. We can also thank her for convincing her sister, Mrs. Rubenstein, to exercise her importance as a mother.

It is a terrible act of injustice to divide the human race into those who are important and those who are not. Furthermore, it is folly to list the 100 most important people in all of human history. The good that “unimportant” people do often falls under the radar, but it is no less important. And after saving another person’s soul, what could be more important than saving another person’s life?

A prominent bank in Canada tells its patrons, “You are richer than you think.” We may agree with this slogan as it applies to each person in a spiritual sense. For many, the realization that they are spiritually richer than they may think opens their minds and hearts to the fact that they are indeed important.

We human beings all have the same Creator and the same nature. We all owe our existence to our parents, those often unacknowledged but important helpmates who gave us life. And we also owe a debt of gratitude to all those other important people who helped to shape our lives. 

It is now a well-known adage that the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. We can do important things, we people of importance, as long as we are true to ourselves and humbly and quietly perform our important acts for others. 

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