There are websites devoted to the message, “You cannot be replaced.”
The theme of Suicide Prevention Week was, “You cannot be replaced.”
Of course there are also leadership gurus who say, “If you build up your teams and employees well, then you should be able to walk away at any time without the organization suffering.” “Work yourself out of a job” is a popular phrase.
What’s with this idea of people being replaceable or not?
As I saw Facebook statuses and a blog addressing the “You cannot be replaced” idea for Suicide Prevention Week, I paused. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what all the fuss was about. So naturally, I over-thought it and then over-thought it some more. Here’s where my over-thinking got me.
In Modernity, the world changed. There were world wars with widespread carnage. The Holocaust happened. So did the atom bomb. The Industrial Revolution also happened, and assembly lines abounded.
I know that Modernity changed literature (thanks to a wonderful college course all about that). I know that Modernity changed expressions of Christianity (thanks to seminary).
But I wonder if Modernity also introduced the idea that people are replaceable? When millions of people died in a short amount of time, as results of human being’s intentional acts—not natural disasters or epidemics—did that make us feel replaceable? When jobs became clocking in and clocking out to fill a spot in an assembly line that someone else would fill in the next shift, did that make us feel replaceable?
Then, of course, came Postmodernity (at least in some people’s understandings of historical paradigms). There are entire books written about Postmodernity, and I don’t assume to have an exhaustive knowledge. But some ideas that have flourished in this time of history are the importance and uniqueness of the individual. It’s all about you—who you are, who you are created to be, what your unique combination of talents, skills, passions, gifts, and personality is, how you are different from every other human being, and how very much YOU matter.
This sounds much better than Modernity, doesn’t it? Of course it does to us; we’re products of Postmodernity.
So, no wonder a campaign championing, “You cannot be replaced” captures people’s emotions. It’s the epitome of the messages that surround them in this time and place in history. It sounds great.
But is it true?
First, I feel like I need to offer a disclaimer: I am very adamantly anti-suicide! I am not suicidal. I am not depressed—at least right now—I don’t think.
But I’m also not sure that I cannot be replaced.
If something catastrophic happened to me tomorrow, then I would hope someone would come along to replace me. I would hope another woman would raise my kids. They’re easy to love and (sometimes) easy to parent. They’re absolutely adorable, fun, intelligent, funny, and loving (says their very biased mom). But their new mom would be very biased and insanely in love with them, too; she couldn’t NOT be.
I would hope another woman would walk through life as my husband’s partner.
I know other people could and would take my roles at work and take them to places I cannot. Lots of leaders love students and take care of them as well as I do. Lots of preachers preach. Lots of leaders lead. Lots of pastors listen.
Others can make my homemade spaghetti sauce, my banana pudding, my chocolate chip pie, my Italian sausages, my apple pie, and my guacamole. In fact, anyone who can read can make my family’s favorite foods.
The only thing I can’t quite figure out is how my identical twin might get another identical twin; I may indeed be irreplaceable in that regard to my sister and to all my parents.
Again, I don’t say any of this with a sense of low self-esteem, depression, or suicidal thought. It just is what it is. And it’s okay.
I don’t have to be irreplaceable to know that I have worth.