The Value of Life?

150 150 Elisabeth Karsten

As mentioned in the previous article here a thought, that deserves a more detailed discussion in my opinion. What is life worth to us?

There are so many contradictions

To many people it seems so precious that they are willing to risk their life in order to keep it. For many carrying weapons that is the key reason: how are they to defend their lives, if threatened by others with a weapon? However the understandable need for self-defense went oddly overboard – it became the basis of an entire industry. “Do we need weapons in order to fight wars or do we need wars to create markets for weapons?” the East Indian author Arundhati Roy asks poignantly.

However that extreme fear to lose our lives makes us incredibly vulnerable and – manipulable. There is a kind of truce of fear: “If you don´t shoot, I won´t either.” But the threat remains. And so also the fear of losing one´s life and often reinforced by the idea of dying in a painful and agonizing way. The fear is so strong that having a reasonable and relaxed discussion about it is rarely possible. For to question the value of life is improper – after all, it is obvious that this is the highest good!

But is it? Really and always?


Wars are considered exceptional cases, because strategists always have to discern in battle situation what is more important: to win or to save the lives of many innocent people? Often strategy and long term saving of many took precedence over the saving of a few. This is nicely depicted in the film “The Imitation Game” (GB 2014) that came out last year. The film is about Alan Turing who managed to decipher the secret code of the Germans that was considered unbreakable. But as he and his team realize how to decode the secret messages of the German military, they are painfully aware to disclose their knowledge too soon too easily – for preventing attacks from happening would have saved people but also divulged their knowledge and warned the Germans…

 Mercy Killing

For many years there has been an ongoing discussion about a decent way to end one´s life – either by one´s hand or the help of another. There are many documentaries, films, articles and verdicts on this and it is dealt with differently in different countries. The somewhat more humane attitude of Switzerland makes many Germans travel to Switzerland in order to end their life there – or have it ended. Even though it sometimes means an expensive and complicated way to travel – if the person desiring to die is already very ill…

That also includes the constant debate as to how much sickness makes a life unworthy…

 Suicide is considered unethical

Essentially suicide is considered unethical and only people who are highly depressed, despair over life seem to choose this “last exit.” Suicide too is well covered in literature, media and science and I was so fascinated by this subject as a student, that I took a course on suicide. It was an interdisciplinary course and so theologists, future MDs and students of literature came together and discussed it. What fascinated me personally most at the time, is that the old German word for suicide is “Free Death” – as if we at least can voluntarily decide when to leave this life, if are seemingly not able to choose when and if to come…

I actually never understood why this ultimate decision of a human being is considered so condemnable. I always thought, these human beings deserve compassion – for nobody makes that choice if there was a better alternative for him…

Death penalty

And then the death penalty also needs to be mentioned that is presently exercised in 56 countries – which mostly applies to hard core criminals who in turn have unethically ended the lives of others. Their lives are also declared no longer worth living… This too is often and intense subject of discussions.

 The financial aspect

 Especially in the industry human lives become an economic factor: how safe must cars, airplanes etc. be so that people can ride them without being exposed to danger? How extensive must instruction of a vacuum cleaner be so that the company who made it won´t be sued if one of its customers decides to end his/her life with its product?

As a representative example here the story of a car built by the Ford company in 1970, the Ford Pinto. In this model the gas tank was installed in such a way that minor collisions could make the tank break and cause fire. Ford was aware of this, however internal calculations showed that occasional compensation costs in case of damage sues were less than the expense of providing each care with a safer gas tank. So decided on rather paying the compensation than making the tanks less dangerous.

Value through performance

Besides our financial capacity of consumption which effects the economical side of our being, it is also crucial what a human contributes to the gross national product. That can lead to the ethically tricky realizations that a white man is better for business than an Afro-Amercian woman…. Or that people from a certain age on, are not any longer considered worthy of an expensive medical treatment, or on the other hand, their lives are prolonged because it means more income for the hospital even though the prolonging actually means more suffering…

For of course hospitals have to be aware of their budget, insurances constantly have to calculate what a human life is worth and so does the military… All this is also handled differently in various countries.

This also includes the national security of each country – Wikipedia has an entire article on this.

The personal value

Then of course there are all those discussion how worth living life is or should be from a subjective point of view. The spectrum ranges from the writings of philosophers to the current online forums and studies. There was for instance a study in 2009 where 1002 Germans were asked, if they were willing to die a year earlier for one million Euros. The older the people asked, the less willing they were…

And the younger someone is, the more he is grieved – all of what s/he was not able to experience afterall…sometimes it includes gratitude, for all that s/he was spared… Depending on state of mind, relations and perspective.

The absoluteness of death

For, as it is well known, except for a few people with near death experiences, most people cannot remember their return from there (except for a few and they are rarely taken seriously) and so death is considered as final. For many it is also what they fear most – this finality and having no idea, when the “game is over”.

Of course there are other aspects that determine our relationship to death, but it´s not necessary to list them all here, to make a point, for most of them are based, like the other discussed aspects, on the assumption – at least in our western culture – that life is unique and a one time event. That applies to Judaism, Islam and Christendom. Only Hinduism and Buddhism have firmly anchored the concept of reincarnation into their belief systems – and mostly their believers are much more worried about a possible bad next life than about death…

A change of perspective

When I realized that reincarnation is a fact and not a matter of belief, my view of death changed completely. It began rather early in my life, because I already knew as a young child that I had thoughts and feelings that went way beyond my young horizon and I knew, I knew “it” from before… When I finally got in touch with the concept of reincarnation – I believe it might even have been in religion class in school when we were discussing other religions, the experience received a sensible shape. A few more personal experiences with ore or less aware “reencounters” with others made it clear to me: I am not here for the first time and probably also not for the last…

In brief: I adhere to Michael Roads who frequently says so astutely: “It´s true, we only have one life. But that one life is infinite. Our life is like an endless movie and every life is merely a frame within…” And not only is our life one long movie – the cast consists of the same souls…

Similar to a theatre ensemble where every member plays different roles in different plays, so we play different roles in different lives in different positions: sometimes we´re siblings, sometimes friends, sometimes parents and children, sometimes enemies, sometimes allies, sometimes business partners etc.

If you think beyond your current life, you have different values

If one really consequently follows this thought one has to accept that oneself and everybody else is – immortal. As unfathomable as it may seem, because one rarely has an awareness of “the whole picture”. And this immortality not only pertains to one´s current role, but to the soul, the being that´s playing it. If one begins acting from this attitude – many things change.

The seeming finality of life and one´s being can then be categorized similarly to a certain profession one has under certain conditions for a certain while. Sometimes the conditions change and therefore also the professional profile and times and places change anyway. But if one regards one´s own life as fulfilling or not, is not dependent on certain activities at certain times…but from their sum: it´s about the whole picture!

That is also illustrated by the surprise of British colonial officers who were amazed that accused Indians in court preferred telling the truth, even though lying would have shortened the length of their punishment. The Indians took their entire life into consideration – not only the current incarnation and short time relief, but their long term integrity and authenticity.

This far more extensive view on the infinite life in combination with non-violent resistance can result in an enormous empowerment, as Mahatma Gandhi lived and taught with this Satyagraha-movement.

A wider perspective expands your consciousness

If one can accept the notion of reincarnation and therefore the idea that we are in reality immortal and our souls only change bodies, then one can also imagine that one has been here frequently, as son or daughter of various mothers and fathers and was an earthly parent to other souls in turn. Unfortunately our limited material view doesn´t allow for a genealogy beyond one incarnation… But I dare to say that such a drawing could provide a lot of insight, for we would also realize that were in a certain way we´re all related…

We need a better imperative of consciousness!

The current imperative says that our human life is definitely dependent on the functioning of the physical body. If that fails then life is over and therefore all of us are mortal. However, if instead it was commonly accepted and agree upon that we are immortal and all connected, then I can imagine many positive developments:

  • One would look at all one´s fellow human beings with a different attitude, allowing the notion that one probably is closer to them in one way or another than one gaze at one lifetime allows to assume.
  • Then everything we´re doing now was not only of consequence for one´s own children and grandchildren, but for oneself – albeit in a different body… That could lead to a more responsible behavior. (That also alludes to the notion of karma – to explore this here would go too far.)
  • It leads violent combats with weapons ad absurdum, for most likely both killers will come back just to meet each other again – face to face (having perhaps changed parties) and kill each other all over again… If you have the sports spirit of a computer gamer this might be entertaining. Otherwise it´s rather exhausting in the long term having to constantly repeat the birth and growing up process…
  • Looking at peace from beyond one incarnation could therefore be very productive for all involved?

And many others things that can shift the perspective of one´s own life and that on life in general: then it becomes obvious that one knows lots of things that come not from this life, but has been acquired over several incarnations…and that on the other hand nothing gets lost of the metaphysically acquired qualities and abilities, like wisdom, compassion and generosity. Unfortunately it gets forgotten – but to remember it is much easier than having to learn it! However our bank account is very dependent on the physical conditions – but not our inner wealth!

Furthermore one becomes more aware of just how important selfresponsibility is and to be true to oneself… and looking at one´s own best outcome in a situation, never to lose sight of the wellbeing of others.

The highest good is our own attitude

I dare say that the highest good is not life – that is indestructible, because independent of it´s physical form. But crucial is our own attitude, our approach to life is of the highest possible quality and it is vital to develop and respect that. For a short, but consciously and intensely lived life seems definitely more worth living than a long, unconscious vegetating….

It´s again about balance

And here too the notion of balance is important: it obviously makes sense and is important, to live love as consciously and intensely as possible – expressing it through one´s being and doing – as well as one´s current state of consciousness allows. And to act from and in love doesn´t mean being starry-eyed or naïve…

But in our current world this is considered the realm of mad esoteric people, while our world is ruled by rationalistic exoteric people…at least that´s what they believe. But many of them seem rather like mad ignorants…or even more extreme, like power obsessed fanatics… But time is on the side of those, who can think and act beyond their own life! You can start doing that any time…if you´re not already!