The Value of Life

“We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.” 

 J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

East Mill in Belper, Derbyshire

East Mill in Belper, Derbyshire

We say that life is priceless, yet over the years, we have devised ways in which to calculate the economic value of a human life.  Consider the human capital approach which takes the present value of a person’s net earning discounted over his/her lifetime.  Or take the “willingness to pay approach” which determines the value of life based on a person’s willingness to pay for small reductions in the probability of dying. For example, accepting costs such as installing a smoke detector, using a seat belt, or paying for vitamins. Then there is the actuarial calculations used by the insurance company to compute risks and premiums.   Priceless becomes a number, depending on the variables of education, age, gender, and location just to name a few.

How we value life is fundamental to how we participate within our local, indeed global community.  It is the foundation for decisions on who will share the resources – food, water, shelter, and medicine.  These are the ingredients for living well.  Socrates once said, “No life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.”  But is it possible for all to have that opportunity?

These were my thoughts as I began the journey back to the Industrial Revolution, the point in history that experienced unprecedented exponential and sustained economic growth. The living standards of “ordinary folk” were boosted, disease and epidemics were reduced and the percentage of children living past infancy climbed appreciably.  It signalled a time of new technologies, new inventions and new possibilities.

The Industrial Revolution has transitioned into our age of information, which some have nicknamed the Digital Revolution or the knowledge economy.  Progress continues, yet the dialogue on how we place value on life continues.

“There can be no equality or opportunity if men and women and children be not shielded in their lives from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they cannot alter, control or singly cope with.”

Woodrow Wilson

48 thoughts on “The Value of Life

  1. We have been thinking of foraging today and then began to think of courses that help people to feed themselves during times of environmental change.

    Then we see this post from you. Wow. This is so interesting. We were looking around at the topic at http://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/call-of-the-wild-a-foundation-in-environmental-eduction-outdoors.

    We look forward to more of what you are sharing. Please continue.. We love the way you go back into the past to help us all go forward. Reclaiming our identity by reuniting with our sense of community. Thank you

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    • I just went on the link to the Schumacher College – WOW! I’m going to be investigating their courses – they appear have a fresh perspective and a forward thinking teaching methodology. Thank you so much for sharing this information and for your heartwarming comments. The more I travel, the more I realize that our identities are linked with a global network deeply routed in ancient traditions that support and sustain our journey forward. And it is good to find kindred spirits along the way – it makes all of the difference.

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      • Thank you!!! 🙂

        “Some believe all that parents, tutors, and kindred believe. They take their principles by inheritance, and defend them as they would their estates, because they are born heirs to them.” Alan Watts

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      • Mmmm let us allow our own learning to appreciate fear, conflict, hostility that we see outside gives us the gift to explore it within our own innermost selves and learn to understand it. Thank you for bringing that to our attention. Thank you for that recognition. We all hold these energies within, deep below and each of us play a different role in enlighten us all. They are beacons too. MMMMMMMMmm

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      • Just could feel that you might like the info about the college. It’s an added good feeling to be able to help each other from across the world like this. It”s lovely being able to share. We reap a smile, actually we have reaped an enormomous big smile ! Thank you

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      • I so agree – I think that information and knowledge exchange will be critical going forward. In fact, I believe that our very survival depends upon our cooperation and willingness to share.

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      • You make this sort of conversation so safe. We are able to use our various talents, what ever they are to allow fear and allow love and use that that willingness and co operation to learn about us each more. We learn about our desires for happiness, joy and peace and how to give ourselves over to these desires. Thank you, thank you thank you for your openess and benevolence. You are very real. The divine knows our desires more than anyone in the world and is an a better place to deliver it and using our talents of beauty, joy, happiness and peace. Our talents also help us to unravel the fear and to allow ourselves to know love and understand the rel nature o struggle, conflict, war and any tug of war…..Thanks for being our friend…Have a lovely day

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    • How right you are! If you consider the matter in marketing or economic terms, it is better to address a concern “upstream” rather than “downstream.” And yet, it seems, in many cases, that we don’t understand the problem until it becomes “downstream.” As you say, the dialogue continues… 🙂

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  2. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, we placed little value on human life. Now? I think we are returning to this dynamic, where the value of an individual life matters little except perhaps to those who love that person. It is terrible, frightening and terrible.

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    • As I was writing the post, I was also thinking of our fellow creatures that walk this world beside us. Just this morning, I chose this as my thought to the day!

      “And the fox said to the little prince: men have forgotten this truth, but you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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    • Oh, my dear friend, you’re comments resonate with me. In fact, this blog is all about the aging process and will continue to be the main thread of my posts. I believe that our lives/timelines are analogous to a narrative arc in literature: introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Each part has a valuation attached to it. For example, for me, the rising action was searching for the right career, building a home/family etc. Now, I am in the “falling action” and eventually, I will be in the resolution, as all of those who came before me. We take value from the respect that we receive throughout these phases, but I recognize I will be valued in a different way as I go along. Now, the rising action belongs to a new generation – and I believe that are ready to embrace their responsibility. I love Maya Angelou’s take on this:

      “If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” Maya Angelou

      Thank you so much for adding to this dialogue!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  3. What a great post, Rebecca.The Industrial Revolution was, I’m sure, certainly a time of great turmoil and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Once it got started though, it was like an avalanche and in a short space of time, everything had changed. In an ideal world, what we need now, is to establish democracy in every country on earth, so that all people will experience the benefits of progress and be given equal human rights.

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    • Oh Adin, how well said. The Industrial Revolution was indeed “like an avalanche and in a short space of time, everything had changed.” The speed and complexity in our world has increased exponentially; and not all are sharing in the benefits of progress. But I believe that individual effort counts and that we can all, in small random acts of kindness, change our world.

      “There is nothing I fear more than waking up without a program that will help me bring a little happiness to those with no resources, those who are poor, illiterate, and ridden with terminal disease.”
      Nelson Mandela

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  4. I am reading this harrowing and compelling book entitled, “Five Days at Memorial,” by Sheryl Fink. It is about how medical decisions were made on who to treat, who to ignore, and who to euthanize at Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina. I took several pages of notes on the historical development of the concept of triage in Western Medicine. Many of the recent reiterations of the triage philosophy have been influenced by cost analysis and economic considerations, including measuring the productive value of a person’s potential future life.
    Having trained staff and performed mental health triage for almost 30 years I was shocked that I knew little of these developments. For me triage is the same as Napoleon’s battlefield doctor,who originally devised the concept intended, the most acute situations are given priority. Period.
    Your post couldn’t possibly be more relevant to what I am now reading. I find this topic to be of supreme importance. Thank you as always for your excellent posts.
    PS- I am a tad frustrated as your posts are not appearing in my reader, so I have to hunt you down, but, it’s always worth it!

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    • I have been having the same problems with my “reader.” What I have found is that if anyone changes their template, the reader automatically delinks it from the reader. For example, when you changed your appearance, I was still showing as a follower, but it wasn’t transferring to the reader. What I did was unfollow and then follow again. It worked and you appeared again on my reader!!!

      I have added “five Days at Memorial” to my wish list at Amazon.ca! As our population ages, these questions will become more relevant and immediate, especially as they relate to economic value.
      To me, the value of life goes to the heart of our emotional well being. It is interwoven with quality of life, sanctity of life and our personal views of how we face our mortality. Your comments mean so much to me! Thank you!!!

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    • Thank you! To me, value can only be determined through action. I keep thinking of Albert Einstein’s quote: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” So glad to have you back!!! You were missed…

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    • A very good point. We may say that we like equality, but we set benchmarks to determine whether there are some among us that have a greater value. It reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm thought: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

      “Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact.” Honore de Balzac

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