Last October I conducted one of my "Making the Moment Meaningful" seminars. In it I facilitated an exercise in which I asked the participants to state in a dollar amount the value of their life today, the value ten years ago, and the expected value ten years from now.
Jake offered annual values of $60,000, $80,000, and $90,000 based on the amount of money he needed to support his life style. He considered inflation for the future value.
Phil also gave an answer in terms of annual figures for the current and past values--$50,000 as current value and $70,000 as the past value. He anticipated his future value to be priceless given his intent to create a position in life that is not concerned with dollar amounts.
Roger stated that in principal his life was currently worth a million dollars even though he doesn't have a million dollars. Ten years from now the value would increase five fold. Ten years ago he was in a job that he really did not like; he assigned a value of $40,000 for that time.
Lauren also values her life currently at a million dollars. Thinking about her life ten years ago, she considered an annual amount of $70,000. Being practical, she figured that ten years from now her life would be worth ten million dollars. Lauren explained that the increasing value of her life is based on her greater sense of fulfillment.
Donna shared that she could not complete the exercise. Her mind wavered from $0 to infinity based on moods that she has been in.
How do you determine the value of your life? What is the value?
Perhaps you have completed an application for a mortgage loan or a college financial aid application and you had to answer the question of your net worth. The institution providing the application was interested in the difference between the value of what you own and the amount you owe to others. That difference is your financial net worth. But is this the value of your life?
The value of your life is greater than the amount of your pay check. It is not the net worth of your possessions. Your life is more than the things that you possess. The value of your life is not reduced by the amount of money you owe. So how do you measure the value of your life?
Do you consider age? Is the life of an 8-year-old boy worth more than that of a 68-year-old man? Often the media portrays the life of a child to be of greater significance than that of an adult when they report deaths in a tragedy. They might say something like "seven of the eighteen people killed were children." Never have I heard the fact reported as "eleven of the eighteen people killed were adults." If age is a factor, wouldn't maturity also matter?
Do you consider gender? Is the life of a female worth more than that of a male? If gender does matter, it must be in the physiological differences; there are things that the male species can do but the female cannot, and vice versa. It would then be important to consider the degree of capability in these gender- specific functions. In other words, might the life of a woman who can bear children be more valuable than that of a woman who cannot?
Do you consider physical capacity? Is the life of a person who is deaf more valuable than that of a person who has no hearing loss? If physical capacity does matter when determining value of life, we must also consider degrees of hearing impairments, other functional limitations, and even physical strength when there is no disabling condition. In other words, the life of a woman who can bench press 100 pounds might be more valuable than that of the woman who can only lift 90 pounds.
Do you consider ethnicity? Is the life of a person who is hispanic more or less valuable than that of one who is black? If ethnicity matters, then consideration must also be given to purity of race and country of birth,
Should you consider education? Is the life of a woman with a law degree more valuable than that of a woman who dropped out of college? If education does determine the value of one's life, we must consider further the institution from which the education was obtained, years of matriculation, courses taken, class instructors, grades received, and number of years completed before dropping out.
Should you consider religion? Is the life of a Muslim more valuable than that of an atheist? If religion matters, then must it also matter the country, sect, denomination, orthodoxy, and length of adherence to the religion?
Do you consider the amount of your wage or salary? Is the life of a person making $70,000 per year worth more than that of a person earning $50,000 annually? If pay does matter, it must also matter the year of pay, cost of living, amount of work done, and other non-monetary benefits given.
Should you consider achievements? Is the life of a gold-medal swimmer more valuable than that of a world champion of public speaking? If achievement does determine the value of one's life, we must consider further the year and level of competition.
Should you consider position? Is a judge's life worth more than a professor's life? If position is relevant to the value of life, must we also consider the context of the position served? Is a judge who presides over bankruptcies more or less valuable than one who presides over maritime law? Is a professor of creative writing more or less valuable than a professor of psychology?
Should you consider fame? Is Hill Harper's life more or less valuable than Jessica Harper's life? If fame is relevant, then it should also matter the number of people who know you, how widespread you are know, who it is that knows you, and for what you are known.
Do you consider the wealth you has amassed? Is the life of Warren Buffet worth more than the life of Carlos Slim? If a person's money determine's the value of life, should we not also consider how much wealth and how the wealth was obtained to determine value?
Should you consider how much time one has left to live? Is the value of the life of the person who has been told that she has six months to live worth more than that of the woman who has been told that she has only two months? If the time remaining matters to the valuation of life, then it is impossible to determine value until after a person has died.
You are a valuable being of the world. Your value is not in the number of years you have lived nor in your physical makeup. Just like an apple, the richness of what you have to offer is inside. It is not its color, its shape, or its size. Your ability to think, capacity to love, and potential to perform are the valuable characteristics that are housed in your body. Your body serves only as a device by which we can identify the unique set of thoughts, emotions, and actions that you make available to the world.
Your worth is not in the things that you get in this world; it is in what you give to this world.
You are unique. There is no one or nothing else that is you. Being one of a kind, it is impossible to assign a monetary value to you; you are priceless. When you accept a wage or salary in exchange for your time, you diminish your value if you are not allowed to express your thoughts and feelings as you perform. Your time is your life. Every hour that you are paid to perform but not allowed to offer the other gifts you have for the world is life that is not well spent.
It is up to you to identify and offer the valuable gifts that you have. Your uniqueness, if never revealed, is as useful to the people around you as an apple seed that never germinates.
Never let someone else determine your value. No one but you can know the full extent of the ability to think, capacity to feel, and potential to act that you can offer this world. That which is unique--one of a kind--is priceless. Your uniqueness is revealed only when you open yourself up to connect, give, and serve. Only you can assess the full extent of your openness and willingness to give.