My friend, Paul, took me for a spin in his new mini-van the other day. Aside from the fact that Paul surrendered and is now driving a grocery getter in anticipation of the imminent delivery of his firstborn child, I learned something else on the trip. Paul is frustrated by one of the vehicles accessories - or the lack thereof. Paul's vehicle, like many others, comes with a spot for coins. Just not a spot for the pennies.
There is one for quarters, dimes and nickles, but President Lincoln is just out of luck, I guess.
Naturally, I was compelled to check each of my vehicles. Turns out Paul isn't the only one that got short-changed (sorry - couldn't resist). My vehicles are similarly configured. My Dodge, in fact, even has a spot for fifty cent pieces, but nary a place for a penny.
Paul and I considered why that was so. I finally settled on this explanation: you don't use pennies for tolls and meters so the designers didn't include them. That was preferable to my more cynical conclusion - that pennies are just worthless. Turns out there are a lot of folks that think that way, including a congressmen and a biophysics professor from Berkeley.
Some think pennies are a waste of time. Others believe they are a waste of resources (they're made, mostly, of zinc now).
And yet, there is strong opposition to pitching them penny from folks who long for more nostalgic days and from those who love Abraham Lincoln too much to confine him to the five dollar bill.
Pennies might be worthless, or they might not be. The thing that I find striking is how some folks have the same attitude about people. Some look at their neighbor and find him or her a waste of time. Some think they're too much trouble. They're a waste of resources; they have no apparent purpose, but instead are just left over from the transactions that "really matter."
I'll admit that, while I've never consciously voiced that opinion or even consciously thought it, may actions have communicated, from time to time, that people don't matter.
But they do.
All the time.
There are no useless people; no societal "leftovers." And while there might not be a spot for a penny in my mini-van, I hope there is always room for another person. Because people matter.
Come to think of it, I think I like pennies, too. Turns out that one of the leading proponents of keeping the penny is a guy named Mark Weller (a distant cousin perhaps?). His organization, Americans for Common Cents, lobbies in Washington, D.C. for the penny's preservation.
And, if we're going to lobby congress for the preservation of something as relatively insignificant as a penny, then I am certainly going to do all I can to preserve people.