Anyone that knows me even a little bit knows I’m passionate about the concept of showing others (and self) high regard.
That passion was formed in me over a lifetime of many ups and downs, at times being shown undeserved high regard while at other times being shown unnecessary low regard. Each of those experiences touched me deeply and drove these truths deep into my person.
Sometimes a story touches me deeply about these same subjects. Good stories do that, don’t they? A good story makes me see myself as one or perhaps several characters, bypassing my intellect and allowing me to connect in a deeply spiritual way.
Among my most memorable experiences of a movie that impacted me this way was watching Les Miserable (the 1998 version with Liam Neeson and Uma Thurmin). This is a “must watch” movie.
The story begins by beholding Jean Valjean, an adolescent boy, steal a loaf of bread because he’s hungry and poor. He is sent to prison where he does hard labor until becoming a man.
Upon release, being a former criminal and hardened through his prison experience, Jean Valjean once again finds himself hungry and without a means to provide for himself. The community offers him no help as a convicted criminal. That is, until a local priest, Lafitte, takes him in and provides him a meal.
Watch what happens:
It is here that I learn something really important from Lafitte’s actions; showing high regard to a person is based on their value and significance as a person, not their behavior.
Jean Valjean has just stolen nearly all of Lafitte’s earthly possessions, pissed off his wife. When captured and returned to Lafitte, instead of receiving retribution and punishment, he is given more grace, shown high regard for his person, and called upward into a better mission for his life.
What Lafitte does here is substantial and powerful.
Lafitte understood that Jean Valjean was behaving based on a very low regard view of himself – seeing himself as a prisoner and convict – so he demonstrates and speaks a new truth to Jean Valjean – that he was God’s and as such, worthy of a much better life. He then finances that better life by his generosity.
Jean Valjean uses these gifts and the power of the moment to begin building a new life, becoming a successful businessman and mayor of his town.
It is there that he comes to learn of the story of Fontaine – a woman deeply struggling with her own life. Recently fired from his own company, Fontaine is in such desperation, she resorts to selling her body to support herself and her young daughter, Cosette who is left in the care of a family who are exploiting Fontaine’s need for financial gain.
Jean Valjean is provoked in spirit at this sight of Fontaine’s struggle and desperation and injects himself into her life, caring for her and showing her kindness. In the process, he greatly angers the local police inspector, Javert.
Javert is a merciless and miserable man – plagued by one of the most undermining perspectives a human can hold – that a person’s value is determined by their behavior and any bad behavior indicates that the person is bad. This is the essence of holding someone in low regard.
We learn that his parents were bad behavior and see a man desperate to escape the same destiny by sheer effort to do everything perfectly.
Inspector Javert becomes obsessed with trying to uncover Jean Valjeans past transgressions and see that he returns to a life of imprisonment. He’s convinced that Jean Valjean is not worthy of the life he built for himself. His entire worldview is at risk if Jean Valjean is not the evildoer he imagines him to be.
I won’t ruin the rest of the story, because it’s a beautiful and touching movie to watch.
What resonates most with me about this movie is the demonstration of one of the most powerful forces in the universe: Grace.
Grace: to confer dignity or honor onhttps://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace
When I show someone else grace, I am showing them high regard, I’m demonstrating to them that they possess value and significance and are worthy of dignity and honor. This is a transformative superpower we each can wield to literally change those around us. Grace changes things.
Just as Lafitte’s decision to show Jean Valjean not only transformed his life but that of Fontaine and Cosette as well, when I show someone grace, it won’t be long before that person begins to treat others with grace as well. It’s just the natural outcome of seeing ourselves as worthy, significant, dignified, and honorable.
Someone has to be a Lafitte and show grace first. I believe this is our primary and most crucial calling as men.
Inside every man is an opportunity. To be a Lafitte, an Inspector Javert, a Jean Valjean. Every man (and woman and child) is capable of being either. I must choose to be Lafitte to find this – in myself, my brothers, sisters, wives, neighbors, prostitutes, beggars – and yes, even politicians.
I feel as though I’m living in an Inspector Javert world. It seems most are looking for evidence to condemn and dismiss others as worthy of low regard. This should not be – everyone deserves grace – everyone deserves candlesticks.