On knowing your value

29 April 2016

At the end of the first season of comic book tale heroine Agent Carter’s television series, she delivers a line that means far less to the characters on the receiving end of it than it does to the audience listening in. Having spent the entire season struggling to prove her relevance beyond her connection to a lost hero and her worth as an agent despite the unpardonable sin of also being a woman, she is finally lauded among her colleagues for her work—although some of the credit goes unfairly to someone else. This doesn’t bother her, however. She calmly says: “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”

It’s now an oft-repeated line among fans, as it deserves to be. There’s wisdom and strength in it. Peggy Carter earned both, and her statement is a moment of deep, quiet achievement. It’s a moment many of us might aspire to, especially as someone who faces a system in which she has to work hard to find her place. But it’s worth noting that Peggy’s struggles in that system don’t end with her moment. Next season, she’s still fighting many of the same battles. Some of us who cheered her earlier victory might start to realize that, maybe, she is always going to be fighting these battles. And, maybe, we are too.

The question rises: how much good does your confidence in your value do if it’s not reflected and supported by the outside world? It’s a tricky prospect. We don’t want our opinions of ourselves to rely on validation from others; however, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that knowing your value doesn’t necessarily make anything in your life any easier or better. However much you understand what you have to contribute and offer, if the system in which you work or live or doesn’t compensate you for it, if it doesn’t reflect that value, you’re not getting very far for very long. You can solider on, taking the less you’re given and reminding yourself you’re worth more than that whether or not you ever get it. We could rebuild the value system, rewire its connections and reshape it to honor and sustain everyone’s value. But either course requires a long time of a lot of work. To survive either, you might have to be a superhero.

At this point, it does not seem likely we’ll get to follow along on more of Peggy’s adventures, and so I’m prepared to never know if she ever has a moment of disillusionment of disappointment beyond her earlier epiphany. Maybe it’s better that I don’t find out. She can stay as our necessary inspiration, our patron saint of self-assurance and self-protection. In the outside world, knowing our own value isn’t enough—but, precisely because of that, it’s all we have.

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