Prior Value Placement

crowd of people

Ignoring the people around us every day is easy to do. We walk by so many people whom we don’t even see, let alone acknowledge—they just seem like part of the scenery. Can you imagine having this embarrassing conversation with another human being, created in the image of God, when you get to heaven?

You: “Hi! What’s your name? I don’t think I’ve met you before.”

Person: “I know who you are. I bagged your groceries (or fixed your car, cut your hair, or prepared your coffee) for years when we were on Earth.”

CS. Lewis wrote that we nudge people toward one of two destinies by how we treat them. In The Weight of Glory, he explains how every contact with another human has a way of helping that person to one of two destinies:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal . . . It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors . . . . Our interactions with people are helping to nudge them toward one destiny or another . . . . Next to the blessed sacrament itself—your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. (Lewis, 1949, 19 )

During my doctoral studies, I encountered attribution theory, which deals with the qualities we attribute to people either before we actually meet them or in the first moments after meeting them. Many times, this means negative attribution when we see something we don’t like—tattoos, long hair, dirty clothes, baggy jeans, or so forth. Even though my professor expressed dislike for the constant invention of new sociological terms, I decided to create one of my own: prior value placement.

Using this term, I refer to the human ability to consciously place a positive value on another person before even making contact with him or her. And we can certainly also do this in our first few seconds or minutes of interacting for the first time with another human being. I believe that this principle is powerful enough to solve difficult problems such as ethnocentrism, prejudice, and racism. It is based on the foundational principle found in Genesis 1: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).

This one short verse holds the key for horizontal human relationship problems, speaking of the inherent value and worth of every human being who will ever exist. How powerful to think that each human is a unique image-bearer of God! Indeed, humans are sacred, for we are intrinsically connected to the divine through creation. This single thought can change how we view—and how we treat—each person we meet in this life.

Every person you will ever meet already has value placed on them by God, our job is simply to recognize that and treat them accordingly.  The truth is there are no ordinary people, no little people, no useless people, and no dirty people—there are just valued people created in the image of God.

Reflection:  Who are you tempted to snub or treat as scenery?  Do you make quick negative attribution judgments about people?  Can you think of a practical way to remind yourself of the inherent value every person has?

“So God created man in his own image . . .”

Genesis 1:27

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