The Value of Life
While walking through a prairie with my ten year old daughter, she again amazed me with her infinite wisdom and deep connection to the spiritual realm. She noticed a dead mouse on the trail and I explained to her that it was a part of the circle of life and perfectly natural. Later on the path I showed her a dead bird. I mentioned how I felt mournful when I saw the bird. She asked me why I was sad for the bird, but not the mouse. She also remarked that if it was indeed perfectly natural and a part of the circle of life, then why would I be sad for either of them. I was forced to seriously contemplate these questions. While reflecting on this conversation, I began to wonder how the random value we place on certain lives over others is apparent among humans as well as animals.
Many of us have mourned the loss of a victim while advocating for the death penalty. Is one life more valuable than the other? Do we diminish the value of a life based on actions? The answer to both questions unfortunately is "yes". We only advocate for lives that have personally impacted our reality. Whether that person is someone we know, relate to personally, or sympathize with, we place a subliminal value on their life that we do not apply to others. Examples of this truth range from the death penalty, to pro-war supporters, to anti-abortion advocates. In each scenario, we have placed more value on one set of lives over another.
This may explain why we have the current race divisiveness in this country. Is it possible that individuals only seek justice for people who resemble themselves or who they can relate to in some fundamental way? I would argue yes. There are many individuals who conduct public outcries over the death of a police dog, yet have no commentary on the hundreds of lives wrongfully taken at the hands of police. What values have they placed on animals, as opposed to people of other races? Since most implicit bias is subconscious, we rarely ask ourselves these questions. Why did I value the life of the bird, over the life of the mouse? Why is one more important to me? I have never asked myself these questions before, and I have no clear answer to share. It is something that each of us needs to explore within ourselves if we hope to create harmony among the races and with nature.
The other major issue is that since death is a natural part of life, why should either creature be mourned? I considered the caterpillar when rationalizing this question. The caterpillar is known for one of the greatest transformations on our planet. It is amazing to see them change completely from a land bound critter to a beautiful and graceful butterfly. This transformation is nothing short of phenomenal. The caterpillar enters into a cocoon where his entire body liquefies and is restructured into a butterfly. For all intents and purposes, the caterpillar is dead. Her appearance as we know it has changed and will never be the same again. She is utterly unrecognizable. Her friends and family (go with me on this) will never see her again. She has moved on to her next life.
We have a bigger perspective of the picture and understand that her death is merely a transformation. However, she will never visit the other caterpillars and explain the process. She simply moves forward with her new wings and explores. Perhaps our jaded view of death is simply a result of having a perspective that is too small to comprehend the transformation -or its absolute beauty.
When I consider this viewpoint, I wonder why I should mourn either of these animals. I also consider that perhaps mourning our loved ones is also unnecessary. If we truly believe in heaven or reincarnation, then why are we sad for the individuals? Perhaps, instead we should celebrate their newfound ability to spread their wings.
One thing is for certain, our universe is entirely connected and each life, big and small, needs to be protected and respected. The value of a life should never depend on what they have contributed to our own existence.