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How do you measure a human?





How do you measure a human?

Can you determine their worth

by vivisecting the actions

of a potentate or a serf?

Do we judge by what they’re consuming?

Are we truly labelled from birth?

Are we assessed by our factions?

The absence or presence of mirth?

Can you evaluate women?

Can you quantify men?

Transitions juggle revisions;

who wins, the cock or the hen?

Sum up identities, genders,

status, wealth or smarts?

Do we get a gold star for STEM bends,

or for our soft spot for the arts?

Do we stand out for ethics,

or being ideologically pure?

Is there rubber stamping for sex kicks

or devotion to causes de jour?

Is it aptitude or refinement

the path we climb to acclaim?

Or will networking and vox pop alignment

lead to a vignette of fame?

What price is peer adulation;

recognition of hard work put in?

How much for adoration,

to be heard above noisome din?

Is popular a rebuttal

of some intransigent state;

or should we regale hordes as pariah

to an other’s shortfalls berate?

Do we applaud displays of valour?

Do we pay homage to stilled heads?

Is a monk, mendicant or a scholar

of more value than hoppers-of-beds?

Is a bully more noble than cowards?

Are doers more regal than zen?

Do pragmatics pip romantic blowhards?

Do they cherish kith more than kin?

How do you weigh up a consort,

a naval prince knighted and praised?

Do you look at the good works and stuff bought?

Do you look past the children he raised?

Do you take every action as gospel,

every bigoted comment as meant,

or put him down as time-damned; spelt

out by his traumas. Soul spent?

If they bow down before a Deity

or stand alone straight, sans belief,

does another’s worldview’s strength or frailty

give others compassion or grief?

If they had an abundance of power

yet were crippled by zero control,

would subverted ambition sneer, glower,

at all parts suborned by the whole?

In the end we are all decompositions.

Reductions to matter redux.

Our light, our real contributions

are remembered in spite of the flux:

flowing through surface or substance

we don’t self-assess our own worth.

We fall over through life’s replete tests

and leave only memories on Earth.



Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Measuring tape (Diana Polekhina/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, poetry



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Existing comments

The answer, harking back to the poem’s venerable ancestor in Job 38 and following, is in the nexus between Faith and Reason, not Faith and reason. Actually, the chronology of direction of the nexus is between Reason and Faith, and certainly not reason and Faith.

roy chen yee | 11 May 2021  

Thanks Barry for your light touches on our central heavy reality of 'personhood'. Really enjoyable to read. In a universe derived from nothing; present as a partial quantum vacuum that flummoxes physicists; and, running fast and dangerous to dissolution, does one thing ever count more than another? Yet, John heard The Lamb of God say we-who-follow will bear: "fruit that will last". Ah! Something then will remain. What fruit could be immune from universal decay? Paul comes to our rescue: "Love and Peace and Joy and Patience and Goodness and Generosity and Faithfulness and Humbleness and Self-Control". Not so we can rank others; for purloining The Lamb's mantle of judgement would be fatal. Rather, so we may soberly assess ourselves as we labour daily to follow. Thanks again, Barry. Ever in the love of Jesus; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 11 May 2021  

Sharply observed and full of compassion. Well-questioned.

Pam | 12 May 2021  

Excellent Barry !

Ginger Meggs | 12 May 2021  

With the tape measure?

john frawley | 13 May 2021  

The question has arisen: "If the good fruit that endures eternally includes: 'Love and Peace and Joy and Patience and Goodness and Generosity and Faithfulness and Humbleness and Self-Control', what fruit of ours has no such future? Surely that would include: murderous hatred, self-pitying misery, agitated discontent, impatient intolerance, wicked iniquity, selfish grasping, fickle hypocrisy, bossy hubris, feral emotions; and so on. Again, insights given us for assessing ourselves rather than for judging the worth of other people. As Barry Gittins wisely implied: none but Judge Jesus can safely negotiate that minefield.

Dr Marty Rice | 14 May 2021  

I love this, Barry. I will be sharing with students and staff. In the end, perhaps, we do what we can as well as we can in the time we have. Thank you for your insightful words' worth!

Ann Rennie | 15 May 2021  

Thanks, Ann Rennie. What you write is true and teaches an attitude of humility. Yet, Catholics (hopefully all) who want to pick up their cross daily and follow Jesus find there is 'something missing'; as Paul found with Apollos' disciples in Ephesus. Paul then supplied the missing gifting and empowerment by releasing the Holy Spirit of Christ on them. An explosive growth of the Gospel of Love then spread like wildfire into the surrounding regions, carried by those who had received The Holy Spirit of Christ. In truth, one can only bear fruit of exceptional worth through The Spirit of Christ in us (see Romans 8:9). And, Barry is right to poetically pose the question: "Who can discern the value of a human person?" Spiritual things must be discerned spiritually; they are incomprehensible to any lacking The Holy Spirit of Jesus; those people are in the dark about the extraordinary deeds (and I mean extraordinary) they could do by partnering with The Holy Trinity (e.g., this is made especially clear in 1 Corinthians 2: 12-16). We have not been left as orphans . . . and there is a world of difference between humans 'still in the flesh' and all of those who've become full of Jesus' Holy Spirit. It'd be so nice if Barry added a closing stanza to highlight this basic Catholic truth.

Dr Marty Rice | 17 May 2021  

Do you posess a tape measure for that, Barry? I am reminded of that Zen adage 'If you meet the Buddha, kill him'. Our stereotypes of Jesus, Buddha etc. are so wrong. Someone like Thomas Merton had to go on a long and painful journey into himself to find himself. He was an authentic Christian mystic in the Catholic tradition. Few have that bottle.

Edward Fido | 20 May 2021  

Dear Edward, unless I read you incorrectly, isn't that a counsel of despair? "Trust none, we are on our own." Few faithful Catholics would see Thomas Merton (a self-confessed disciple of one aspect of Buddhism) as a disciple of Jesus Christ, who we know well from the nine authors of the 27 texts of The New Testament, as calling all who love Him into a mutually-supportive unity. Christianity and Buddhism are cheese and chalk: we gravitate together by grace and servanthood in one; we scatter by our own gnosticism and self-obsession in the other. They are subject to incompatible spirits. Keep well Edward. Ever in the love of Jesus; blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 20 May 2021  

How do you measure a human? A human being, is only as good as the goodness he gifts to his fellow human beings. All else is residue.

AO | 21 May 2021  

AO: ‘A human being, is only as good as the goodness he gifts to his fellow human beings.’ If the human being is in a coma and someone stops him from being euthanased in order to protect the principle that euthanasia is wrong, he was good not because he donated something of benefit to humanity but because grace (merited, unmerited, who knows?) put him in the position where: 1. someone (his advocate) was available to mine his situation for good; 2. someone (the authorities) was available to let his situation be mined for good and 3. someone (the moral capital of the community) was available to receive the good that was mined out of his situation. So what did he do to deserve payment? Nothing. How about rent for the use of his situation as a mine? Maybe. It would seem that a human is incapable, without grace, of being a source of good.

roy chen yee | 22 May 2021  

Hi Marty. I think Thomas Merton was authentically Catholic. He knew the differences between the religions. There are similarities in the monastic life, but the methods and aims are different. There is something in authentic Catholic mysticism, as exemplified by St John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila, called The Dark Night of the Soul. It can seem like despair but is more a trial. I think I went through that. Sadly, there are few real mentors around when you go through that. I met some older Carmelites who genuinely 'knew'. They were protected and nurtured by the charism of their order. My own experience - if I can be blunt - is that a lot of people in the churches talk without real knowledge. You are not one of these. Humility is what is needed. There are maps to the way: the Carmelites, Dante and many more. Real, feeling religion seems out of favour and replaced by a dull cerebreal effort. Christ came in real time in real life. As Oliver Cromwell said 'Trust in God, but tie your horse'. The mind, unaided by Grace, can lead you astray.

Edward Fido | 22 May 2021  

rcy. Everything good comes from above,(God). James 1: 17. A human being is as God created him, in His image, when his life produces goodness. Regardless of his medical condition. All else: residue.

AO | 23 May 2021  

Dear AO (makes me think of Archbishop's Office) you have twice proposed that human worth can be defined by goodness, without saying who decides what's 'good', as Barry's poem interrogates us. Many thought it was good to massacre indigenous peoples. Some still do it. King Jesus Christ defined goodness as obeying God's Commandments plus His New Commandment that we must love as He loves, even our enemies. 'Tis rare to hear commandments mentioned in church these days, so here's a 21st Century exegesis: The Semitic Ten Commandments reflected cleanness of the right hand (the first five) and uncleanness of the left hand (the second five). Today, could we be true to the original via a positive, personal, ecumenical, and egalitarian hermeneutics, informed by the New Testament: HAND ONE, Thumb: With all my heart, mind, body and soul I will worship the One revealed by Jesus Christ: Father/Son/Holy Spirit; Index Finger: I will have no other god nor any idol; Middle Finger: I will not use God’s name profanely; Ring Finger: I will keep the Sabbath Day holy; Little Finger: I will honor my mum and dad. HAND TWO, Thumb: I will love every person and not hurt or kill anyone, nor think evil of them, nor hate or take revenge; Index Finger: I will maintain sexual purity and faithfulness in thought, word and deed; Middle Finger: I will not steal; Ring Finger: I will not tell lies, nor deceive, nor slander; Little finger: I will not covet for God in Christ has provided all I need. Thus, 'goodness' is eternally established in objective criteria by the merciful justice of God. As Catholics we must herald this Good News and be Light amidst the prevailing darkness of moral uncertainty.

Dr Marty Rice | 24 May 2021  

My apologies, Marty, I should have thanked you for your good wishes, which I reciprocate fully. BTW, I don't know if you've come across that wonderful book by another Rice, Ed, who was at Columbia with Thomas Merton? Merton's autobiography was heavily censored by his religious superiors, Ed Rice fleshes it out. Merton was certaily 'a bit of a lad' with the ladies. He was, I think, trying to compensate for the aching loss of his mother at an early age and a travelling life with his artist father. As I say, I think he was fully within the Catholic Mystic Tradition. Regards, Edward

Edward Fido | 24 May 2021  

Too wordy, Marty. The truth, goodness, is very simple: It is God within. Which then is manifested externally. As also said by St Albert the Great. And very many other witnesses.

AO | 26 May 2021  

Marty, God is Good. Imitate His qualities. That's all that is needed. (A) man is human when he imitates God's qualities of Goodness. What exactly can't you understand here? Do what Jesus, Gandhi, and others did. Jesus came ( God ) came as a human to let us know it is very, very, very simple to spread the Goodness of God, His Goodness. And therefore be rightfully considered 'human', in His Image: Man.

AO | 26 May 2021  

Uniquely: The New Testament shows us all how to "be like God". That's why our Catechism quotes The New Testament 3,500 times. Have humans ever not needed many words to help us imitate The Word, dear AO? Love & blessings from Marty.

Dr Marty Rice | 28 May 2021  

Have humans ever not needed many words to help us imitate The Word? Actually, too many words are an overkill: "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." St Francis

AO | 30 May 2021  

Dear AO, can we yet do better than popular myths? Francis & Franciscans have always preached New Testament values; learned of & applying godly words they lead others to the WORD. Vintage words of St Francis: "Where there is Love and Wisdom, there is neither Fear nor Ignorance. Where there is Patience and Humility, there is neither Anger nor Annoyance. Where there is Poverty and Joy, there is neither Cupidity nor Avarice. Where there is Peace and Contemplation, there is neither Care nor Restlessness. Where there is the Fear of God to guard the dwelling, there no enemy can enter. Where there is Mercy and Prudence, there is neither Excess nor Harshness." Such words help us avoid what St Paul called: "measuring yourself by yourself"? Love & blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 31 May 2021  

Measuring yourself by yourself?? Jesus said, "the Father and l are One." God's children also know this of themselves regarding their relationship with God. The Jewish authorities renounced Jesus for His claim of measuring Himself by Himself. Words are a shell. "Being", what the words imply, Marty, are the pearl. When that is achieved. Words are uneccasery.

Dr AO | 01 June 2021  

Marty Rice: ‘applying….Vintage words’ The virtue ethicist, as first responder to a moral ‘emergentia’: where is the Restlessness or Excess in the situation….Poverty is ‘poverty of spirit’?

roy chen yee | 01 June 2021  

Dear AO, am glad we agree that words are essential to mediate human 'being'; & am sure poet, Barry, concurs. It's sad though when anyone self-deifies, resiling to the Genesis 3:5 disaster & a futile measuring of themselves by themselves. Yet, as Jesus explains in Matthew 18:7 & Luke 17:1: "Offences must happen." Everyone is free to choose. So: "When is the Apocalypse?" Haven't we understood Matthew 12:37? It is always: "Right now!" In the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty.

Dr Marty Rice | 02 June 2021  

Dear Roy, thanks for your thoughtful response. As poets, like Barry Gittins know well, words are not just digital data, nor even just cognitive transfers, but always evoke a meta-cognitive ecosystem in those attuned. Catholicism is based on our becoming attuned to the Mind of Jesus Christ, largely from hearing and meditating of The New Testament and related holy texts and the sacraments. Being 'in Christ' radically transforms our ethic and, consequentially, our perception of and response to 'emergencies'. This is proportional to one no longer living ('poverty of spirit'), since Christ has become one's all-in-all, alive in us, by The Holy Spirit of God. As with God's own modus operandi: it's by giving it away that we enter into the fullness of being always intended for humans. Amidst a plethora of counterfeits (even in the Church) it's Judge Jesus alone who can separate wheat from chaff. We do best to rest in Jesus' omnicapable arms. Take care Roy. Always in the grace & mercy of The Lamb; love & blessings from Marty.

Dr Marty Rice | 02 June 2021  

Marty, what I have written is not wrong. It is your interpretation of what I have written that is.

AO | 03 June 2021  

Dear AO, my apologies for any misunderstanding. Hope we have harmony in Colossians 1:28 - "We proclaim Christ, in all wisdom warning & teaching everyone, so all can come to maturity in Christ, the hope of Glory." Thanks for dialoguing. Always in the grace of Jesus; love & blessings from Marty

Dr Marty Rice | 04 June 2021  

"We proclaim Christ, in all wisdom warning & teaching everyone, so all can come to maturity in Christ, the hope of Glory." Yes, Marty. Christ is the fulfilment of All. Pouring buckets of water (us humans) into an ocean (Christ) is a way. Another, when Christ (the ocean) pours Himself, of His own doing into (us humans) empty buckets. No animosity ever intended. Peace.

AO | 05 June 2021  

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