The Value of a Person
My value is not defined by how much money I can earn. Neither, for me at least, is yours. Such a definition is not only narrow, in that it focuses on only one small part of the thousands of elements of my existence, it is also among the least interesting. Can I make you laugh? Can I cause you to smile? Can I make you think? Can I entertain you? Am I someone to whom you might reasonably turn for love and kindness? Do I know as much about Star Trek as you do? Did “Go Set A Watchman” ruin “To Kill a Mockingbird” for me? Do I believe that’s even a relevant question? Would a comma straighten out your sentence for you? I’m the Guy to Ask. All of those are more interesting definitions of your friend. They’re also all among the indicators of Your Value to Me.
Many of the people on my Friends List are women upon whom, when I was in The Hormone Haze that is the existence of a 15 year old boy, I had a terrible crush. Was that because they were physically attractive? Undoubtedly. So should I make all of my judgments about women based upon their attractiveness? And, if I did, wouldn’t you loathe me for such an unimportant and single minded appraisal of my friends? And if anyone made their sole method of judging me my physical attractiveness, I would have few friends, indeed. It’s simply one of the thousand elements of them in which I once had an interest.
Their real value to me, now that I’m no longer a boy, lies in their ideas. It has to do with how they see the world. It’s what I learn from seeing glimpses into their worlds. They’re like Elizabeth Bennet for me. I never lived in 18th Century England. But I’ve seen it from her eyes, and it enriches my understanding of, and to, my own world. And, if you don’t love Elizabeth Bennet, I beseech you, now that you’re an adult, to read “Pride and Prejudice.” If you still don’t love Lizzy, I need to understand you better.
Just as wrong as I would be to make my judgment of a person based on their physical attributes, I would be equally offended if I were to be judged solely on the amount of money I can earn. This would be equally true if I were physically attractive or I could earn large sums of money. Why, then, are we willing to make such narrow judgments about strangers? I refuse to believe the only value of someone else is how much money they can earn, or how physically attractive that person may be.
And I believe all people, simply because they have been born, deserve the basics of living. I know many people who publish memes of blank pieces of paper that are the list of all the things the world owes you. I can’t agree with that.
Neither you nor I nor any of them ever asked to be born. We simply were. We were the fastest sperm, but we didn’t even ask to be that. And we survive on this planet only because others, at some point, took care of us. In fact, we all rely on each other, in greater or lesser ways, to survive even now. Someone has to grow our food. Someone has to pick it, or slaughter it. Someone has to package it. Someone has to ship it. Someone has to stock it on the shelf. Someone has to sell it to you. And that was just lunch. We depend on each other. Is that Socialism? I don’t know. We can debate economic theories another time. I’m simply pointing out that, as John Donne told us, “No man is an island entire of itself.”
Yes, we all live in our own worlds. Our experiences are ours alone, unique to each of us. But we also all live in the same world. We share it. There is no other to which we can go. This planet is all there is for any of us.
Let’s make it as nice for everyone as we can. Let’s not decide that some of us are better than others for reasons that have nothing to do with who we are. If you’re a serial killer, I’m probably a better person than you are. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a better person than I am; otherwise I wouldn’t want you on my Friends List. I improve myself by being around those better than I am, in the same way you’ll become a better musician by playing with Miles Davis than you will by playing with me. Some people are better than others, yes. But let’s make those judgments about them for meaningful reasons. And let’s end those judgments at the point of deciding whether we want to be their friends, instead of deciding that, because we don’t like someone very well, they don’t deserve the basics of life. Yes, they do. So do I. So do you.