This week the world watched thirty-three Chilean miners unearthed after sixty-eight days trapped underground. Prayers were answered and worries sown asunder. Women and children joyfully wept as a capsule dived down deep, time after time, and brought up buried priceless treasure—their husbands and sons, their fathers and brothers. Common workingmen trapped perilously beneath a mountain captured our attention precisely because, once it was known they were alive, no effort was too great to rescue them.
People have great value, not because they earn a high wage, but because they are special and sacred, regardless of life station. Americans too often value a person’s financial position greater than the intangibles of love and character and devotion. I talk to many jurors in the course of my profession. Sometimes, after hearing compelling testimony about how much a deceased client loved his or her family, and was committed to his or her community, jurors, after the trial, say something like, “Well, you can’t put a price on human life.”
These kinds of statements generally come from jurors who refuse to value another’s life for a large amount of money. Yet this illogical argument and its related action actually make money worth far more than human life. For it simply refuses to value life at anything approaching a priceless treasure. Remember, “priceless” means of extreme worth, not something easily affordable.
A question I sometimes ask jurors after a trial is, “What amount of money do you think would be a fair trade for you to voluntarily end your life right now?” At first, this shocks them. But, every time I ask this question, I always receive large monetary replies. For example, I recently asked a focus group that very question. The first person said, “$10 million”. The next responded, “I’m worth $25 million, at least.” Another woman exclaimed, “You’d better make it $50 million or more for me. And even then, that sounds too cheap. After all, I’m special…at least to my family. And that’s who has to get along without me.”
What struck me is that none of these three people wanted to give a person who had actually suffered tremendously at the hands of another more than $5 million. In fact, the woman who determined her value to be at least $50 million had previously told everyone she was unwilling to value someone else’s life more than $250,000. Her reasoning was “because you can’t put a value on human life.”
These responses are not unique. I told the group I was curious that they valued their own lives so much more highly than they valued the life of another. I then asked them to tell me why they thought this was so.
Silence filled the room. People refused to make eye contact with others as the only sound came from the tick-tock of a wall clock. Finally, a small frail woman broke the silence, saying, “It’s probably wrong, but I guess I think I’m worth more than other people. I’ve never admitted it, but the question forces me to, if I’m honest about it.”
In the future, we would do well to remember how we felt this week when no expense was spared to save men buried alive. It was the world at its finest, treasuring our neighbor not for what they can do for us, but simply because they, like us, are unique and special—priceless. If Chile declared the miners precious and then refused to spend significant sums to rescue them, we would note the great hypocrisy. But Chile honored all mankind when they pursued to value life with relentless passion. May we resist the temptation to value ourselves more highly than we value others. Whether a man is a miner or a millionaire, his greatest worth lies deep within his capacity to love and be loved.