Philosophically speaking there can be only two views on this. Either humanity has something that sets it apart from the rest of creation, or it is a glitch in the system, some oddity that has produced beings that are self-aware and concerned with their “meaning” in a chance and thus impersonal universe. A useless, even potentially detrimental, trait in an impersonal system.
The tension that is always there for post-modern thinking people is that they just can’t give up that need for meaning. Human psychological makeup will not function properly without that. But in an impersonal universe, there is no real basis for meaning: it just is.
Yet all our senses in life tell us that there is meaning – we don’t always know how it fits together in the great whole, but we intuitively know it is there. We cobble together our best efforts to try to express it, in our many disciplines of acedemics, and in our daily choices. We give meaning to inanimate objects because the meaning for it resides within us. And there is a good theological reason for that.
The very basis is given in Genesis: we were made in the image of God. We reflect characteristics of the Creator, and that makes us know that, whomever we are, and however we are perceived by ourselves or one another….. we have something of innate meaning we share. In some way each of us will count, if our person is a reflection of a personal Creator.
That will be true no matter how damaged or marred we become. And will stay true no matter how unappreciated we find find ourselves.
That is not to say we are “all good”, that is to say that our essence holds something of expressing the Good. We all have capacities of some sort, and the various expressions of that are what we label “beauty” or “intelligence” or “talents” or “fine character” …. these are the modes of our meaning. We have the need of discovering the great variety of these expressions.
Take beauty. That can be hard to impossible to define, simply because the expressions of it x the receptiveness to those expressions is beyond our ability to compute intellectually. The beauty of life and of people will always hold fresh surprises because of this. Our challenge is to only “see”. The beauty of a person will be on any of various levels and with different components, and we sometimes have educated senses and sometimes we don’t, but that has no bearing on the actual beauty of that person.
Take the example of racial beauty…
Because our culture has allowed for it, and the media has educated our eye, we have a much wider view of racial characteristics of beauty, we have more appreciation for the nuances of the human skin, for various shapes and combinations of eyes and noses, and we experiment with that all the time, but the range has actually broadened. This is what art does: it showcases beauty and stretches our understanding of what that is.
Not that all efforts at art get it right, but that is part of the discernment process. The basic contention is that beauty is there. And that is true of all the qualities of meaning in you and I as humans, it is there and we just have to learn how to see and understand it. And then respect it.
If you accept that a God made you, then you accept that something about you is important, meaningful, and beautiful. Even if you don’t know what you think about God, looking at people with that intent will evidence it to you: you can value each person intrinsically for the fact that they are human.
That all by itself makes you special, and you have a unique combination to express. Isolated facts will clue you in to this, and it is the false messages of attempts to derail that truth that will cloud ones vision.
Now, here is where it gets tricky. We often get all turned around in what we deem destructive messages. That is the curse of trying to discern from our subjective standards.
We have to accept by faith that we each have something of worth -in ourselves and in what our lives will become. We will further have to extrapolate that worth to others.
I can go no farther now without issuing a manifesto. I cannot now prove arguments of a God, nor my understanding of Him, and so I simply and flatly state my conviction:
A good God made you, He put something of what He is into your makeup, and that makes it certain that you exhibit your type of beauty, your own type of importance in the grand scheme, and your own type of potentials. What you do with it, the ability of others to perceive it, those are things that will work out in different ways, but you were given something, and no other human can deny that, not even you, with truthfulness.
That is why you are special and why I can know that. We can find beauty and truth because those things are there.
I want to end with a little anecdote on how beauty is there and sometimes surprises us.
A few years back I had gone Christmas shopping. I was checking out my purchases and the woman who clerked was a woman who had obviously had had a terrible burn accident. It was a bit hard to look at her, but I often try to get beyond outward handicaps, so I forced myself to look her straight in the eyes and hold a conversation. I say forced, because the natural reaction is to avert our eyes…sort of move on by. I must have had a lot of purchases to wrap up, because we talked about her kids, and the upcoming Christmas, and what I noticed as we talked together was that this woman had a personality that shone through her marred appearance. She was starting to seem attractive to me, with kind eyes and an easy self-acceptance, and all I remember now is that I went away with a revelation. I saw how inner beauty tells. It was something in all the how-to books on beauty, in all the cliches my mother had spoken, in many inpirational books… but here it was, lived out and discovered. Beauty and meaning have a transcendence. These rise quite above our rote methods and instruction books.
What you can start with is that some of the beauty and the meaning resides within you. Start there.