Word of the day

Here’s a riddle: What do certain parking lots and every middle child have in common? A need for validation. And here’s a coin flip: Heads, an endothermic pat on the head from dad, or tails, a ho-hum punch of the card from Sbarro.

The etymological map suggests a straightforward road trip to ancient Latin but we stop in France to refuel. We’ll pass the French valid (“having force in law”), and a bit farther pass a water tower with the Latin validus (“strong or effective”) painted on the side.

A few miles down the road is valere, and that’s where we get out of the car and find a trail that splits in two. Valere is a verb with two interpretations.

On the left trail, valere means “to be worth.” To be worthy is to have value. As we walk down this path, we hear the trees and leaves whispering. They’re talking about you.

  1. n. Wealth; riches: her net worth.
  2. n. Quality that commands esteem or respect; merit: a person of great worth.
  3. adj. Equal in value to something specified: worth its weight in gold.

Along this shaded path, worth means notes on you by people that aren’t you. Like money, these notes are intrinsically meaningless. Like money, we are obsessed with collecting them. And like money, these notes can make us miserable.

Even before the internet we craved the arbitrary judgements of pseudo-strangers but man, if Facebook doesn’t make it so much easier. It’s a pharmacy where anyone can write a scrip, and we’re all addicts too. So be careful on this path. It may look like pollen falling from those trees, but it’s really a billion microscopic motes of longing, hanging in the air.

So we turn back to the trailhead and follow a different interpretation, where valere means “To be strong.”

The trees on this path don’t whisper. They shimmer and reflect the light of passers by. Along this path is the valere found in the spine of “valiant.” Valiant is the handsome prince who slays the beast, but valiant is also the humble soldier who braces in battle. He commits acts of purest effort, ready to see them tumble into pits of certain failure. His value comes from inside. It comes without judgement.

You can take either road, but according to this map you’re already there. If you come across narcissism, you’ve gone too far.