Value, Love, Intent
What is the value of a human being? Most cultures in the world, historically and those existing in the period we call now have been at some point in time enslaved. This is inevitable when kingdoms overtake others, when greed propels mankind into “owning” as much as is possible. During those periods of enslavement, humans have become commodities. We may think we live in modern times with enlightened minds but people are still being sold as if they were a loaf of bread. This is most especially true for females and children.
The general assessment for a human life has, for a number of years, been placed at somewhere around five million dollars. Generally speaking, the cost of life or a life’s potency is the value assigned to a specific living organism based upon the preventative cost of said organism’s death. However, this determined number is not exact and open to controversy. For example, the Environmental Pollution Agency or EPA puts the value of a human life at $9.1 million dollars while the Food and Drug Administration or FDA places it at $7.9 million.
What I find troubling in all of this is first of all, we base the value of living upon the cost to avoid death. No consideration is given to what that life might accomplish or the love it will share, spread, or encourage. The algorithm is solely based upon the cost to society to sustain that life and the life’s contribution to society has no value in the algorithm. The second troubling issue to me is that very few would or could even pay the five million dollars for someone. Most people hesitate to donate five dollars to the homeless and yet, it will cost them over five million and maybe up to nine million dollars to keep that person from dying.
A reasonably well and mentally healthy person will like being alive. Hopefully, we all love life but life can be messy and at times complicated. Most of us love being alive but realize it comes with issues, complications, hurdles to clear, and bumps to survive. Those alive have families. After all, none of us was born by spontaneous combustion; we all had at the initial beginning, a mother and a father. To some the value of a family member is great; to others, negotiable. Sadly, the core of domestic violence is the fact that one person becomes more valuable and believes they have the power to do anything, no matter how harmful or criminal.
“You can’t simply say that every life is infinitely valuable,” said John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University whose work focuses on national security and risk analysis. “That’s just not the way the world operates.” Mueller is the one, by the way, who arrived at the five million dollar amount for the value of a human being.
There are times, other than slavery, when the value of a human life becomes a matter for the courts. After the terrorist attacks on the two World Trade Towers, monetary appropriations were given to the victims’ families. Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg managed the compensation funding for victims’ families of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Using an algorithm determined by the courts and Congress, Feinberg wrote checks based upon the denied future of the victims. This meant that a secretary’s family was paid less than a banker’s family, even though the contribution to the family of a mother is arguably more than that of a father who was only home six hours out of every twenty-four. The same was true for the firefighters and policemen who rushed in to help and were killed for their heroic efforts. Their salaries were much less than the insurance analysts so their life had less “value” although most had saved lives for several if not many years.
Feinberg has very definite opinions about the value of human life. “In the case of Sept. 11, if there is a next time, and Congress again decides to award public compensation, I hope the law will declare that all life should be treated the same. Courtrooms, judges, lawyers and juries are not the answer when it comes to public compensation. I have resolved my personal conflict and have learned a valuable lesson at the same time. I believe that public compensation should avoid financial distinctions which only fuel the hurt and grief of the survivors. I believe all lives should be treated the same.”
We’ve discussed authenticity and accountability but it really all boils down to how honest we are with ourselves. How truthful are we about ourselves when we are alone and no one is listening or watching? One of the best things about our pets is their authenticity. I really doubt my dog wants to be a cat and my cats – well, they are convinced they are at the top of the animal chain of command. Why would they want to be something else?
Because they are authentic, our pets give us unconditional love. It really is just that simple. To be authentic has been called a “primal urge”. Did Neanderthal man want something better than himself? Well, yeah. That is why we have made strides in living and why we no longer live in caves and eat raw food. I honestly am not so sure that being authentic is a primal urge. I just think animals are comfortable in their own skin and realize that they need to get living as what they are right before taking on something else. In that way, they are smarter than we are.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Practice what you preach” ad infinitum and ad nausea. What we sometimes fail to grasp is that we need to do it for ourselves in order to gain self-knowledge. We need to live with intention in order to gain a better self, grow a better version of ourselves. We need to continually and constantly update ourselves to stay current and effective in our own lives.
Lent is a time for intentional living. You can just be true to yourself and then live with intention. Oscar Wilde once said “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinion; their lives a mimicry; their passions a quotation.” Live YOUR life today. Be yourself. Walk your own path to personal fulfillment. Let the voice you hear be YOUR voice. I bet it’s gonna be beautiful!
During Lent we often engage in discussions of love and self-love. Lent is a liturgical season for talking about “growing” ourselves. Love is certainly the fertilizer and food that enables that process. Our first step has been to discuss self-worth. Your life has value, probably ten times any number that an algorithm can determine. However, if we do not love ourselves and allow ourselves to be loved, then we are killing our garden before it has a chance to blossom. I hope today you will love yourself today and have faith in the value of your living.