The Value of Life
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | March 2017
We have no appropriate measurements for human value. We express empathy by recognizing value judgments, reengaging in connections, and loving our fellow humans.
This person is worth a million bucks; but that person over there is only worth one thousand. Placing a monetary value on human life sounds ludicrous. But value is given to both; just exchanged on different markets. We evaluate worth using comparative judgments. “This is good because it is better than that.” We assign value through comparisons. Determining value for a bushel of corn or an hour of skilled labor may be effective; but comparisons fail when measuring personal-worth. People possess too many variables, valuation changes with the ever-changing criteria. But many remain perfectly comfortable saying, “He’s good; and she’s bad.”
By what criteria do we determine the value of a person? And who is qualified to make these constricting valuations? We need to catch the ignorant judgments while still bouncing in the mind before they drift off our tongues hurting others and exposing our over-biased minds. One person is not of greater value than another. We all just are. We live, we breathe, we feel pain, and we feel joy. We exist. Is my joy more important than the joy of another? Does my pain hurt more than his pain? I feel my personal pain and joy more forcefully than I feel other’s pain and joy; but conversely, they feel their experience sharper than they possibly could experience mine. The experience, whether mine or yours, doesn’t diminish the importance of the experience. By freeing ourselves from determining human value, we clean the lens, opening a more diverse experience. Our defenses fade. With clearer vision, we are more likely to catch ourselves before dismissing the importance of another person’s suffering.
We often show a propensity to excuse lack of empathy by discovering a cause; they have a skinned knee because they ran too fast. A mentality (a defense mechanism to create separation) distancing us from suffering. The wealthy disregard the suffering of the poor by citing they are lazy, the misfortunate disregard the destitute because they use drugs. The religious dismiss the unrighteous, and the unrighteous dismiss the self-righteous. Everyone dividing and dismissing; it makes me sick (as I divide the empathetic from the judgmental). Just because there is a cause, we shouldn’t devalue the suffering—the pain is still poignantly felt no matter our race, economic status, or the effectiveness of our choices. Pain is still pain.
These are habits of thought; but injected with mindfulness, we can catch and modify, expanding compassion towards humanity instead of a select few within our own limiting groups. By not justifying our devaluations of worth, we become connected—not divided. Something we desperately need in this world. We become part of the universe together.
"Just because there is a cause, we shouldn’t devalue the suffering—the pain is still poignantly felt no matter our race, economic status, or the effectiveness of our choices."
Relationships, politics, and societies expand with a more inclusive purpose. I fear we are moving in the wrong direction, more divisive, more unaccepting, and more punitive.
The foundation of compassion and empathy emerges from inclusion. We are connected. If the world is to change, we must cheer for others in their successes and embrace them in their failures. We are all priceless, of great value.