As part of my existential re-evaluation of my life, I've begun to really question my own value, my impact on how I improve or detract from the lives of those around me. What is my place in the world? What is my worth to my family and friends and community? What is the inherent worth in any given person? Are people valuable simply because they exist? Am I?
I think everyone wants to feel that they're valuable, whether to the people around them or to the people in general. But value is very subjective. Things have no worth until they're needed—often when they're gone. Does the same hold true for people? Are they only of matter when someone else has need or want of them?
There's nothing wrong with being the person on either side of that interpersonal need. Children need their parents. That doesn't make them bad; it's just in the nature of the biologically immature to require assistance. Adults need each other, whether as friends or lovers or simply as the holders of something that's needed, i.e. an asset of relative value.
I was doing research for this piece, looking outside of myself for guidance, and came across a website, the LIFE Foundation. According to their "About Us" page, "The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers make smart insurance decisions to safeguard their families’ financial futures." They have all kinds of information and interactive calculators to help consumers figure out how much insurance they need. I plugged in my basic information. For most of ten years, I've been a mom and have had very little earned income. The calculator crashed when I entered my annual income as $0, so I changed it to $100. I clicked ANALYSIS and was absolutely shocked at what came out.
Your estimated human life value – the value today of your future contributions to your household – $-324,556 or about -3246 times your current annual income. If you were to die today, this amount is roughly what your family would need to maintain the same standard of living they will enjoy over the course of your anticipated working life.
Thankfully I wasn't in a nasty state of mind and didn't take it personally. I know full-well that there are all kinds of calculations used in the modern world to determine the fiscal impact of a human life, often used for financial and insurance planning purposes, as well as litigation involving damages based on disturbance of a person's life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. I also know that this calculator didn't take into account the value of the services I provide to my family—most notably the cooking, the laundry, the dishes, the homework, the doctors' appointments, the bill-paying, etc.
Salary.com said the value of the average stay-at-home mom in 2011 is roughly $115,000. That assumes Mom works about 80 hours a week and does everything. Don't get me wrong, I do a lot, but I'm also blessed with some outside help for things like grounds maintenance and household chores. And both of my kids are in school all day, so I'm not playing daycare center worker anymore. When I do the customizable calculator for my life, I'm worth about $61,000 a year.
But all of this doesn't really answer my question about inherent value. Even if I were gone today, I know that my actual cost-to-live would be deducted from the household expenses. The day-to-day, financial impact of my existence would be mitigated simply by ceasing to exist. There's the argument to be made that the family would take on additional cost for childcare that Mom provides while Dad is at work, but even that is a temporary cost. So what am I really worth?
I know there's no way to place a real value on the love and care—or even the drama and upheaval—I bring to my family. There's no way for my friends to tell me how much of their heart I hold, and vice versa. Those are totally subjective and thoroughly emotional values.
In his poem "the very old sings", Dutch poet Lucebert says, "All things of value are defenseless." The words famously adorn the top of a building in Rotterdam. The things that we as humans hold most valuable—love, beauty, knowledge, truth—are completely unable to defend themselves but are undeniably the most defensible, the most in need of defense.
The acts and actions required to defend the valuable are often the things that cost us the most. Certainly there's an emotional cost to such an endeavor, but the real, tangible cost is often exemplified in productivity hours, marketing or outreach, and sacrifice of resources to help ensure an often zealous defense. Maybe the true value lies in the cost the Editorial You is willing to accept in defense of the indefensible.
So what is Self worth? Again, maybe the value of Self is tied directly to what you're willing to sacrifice to protect and uphold what, by its very and pure nature, cannot support itself. Because of its subjectivity, each person holds different things to be dear; they find their own self-evident truths. For one person, it may be love or trust. For another, it may be reputation or intellect, though there's an argument to be made that even those are partially monetary in nature.
Warren Buffet said, "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." The price any person is willing to pay to make themselves truly defensible, whether to themselves or to others, is at the core of their value. Sometimes we do stupid things that tear that down, that devalue us in the eyes of others or in our own mind's eye. Sometimes we do things inadvertently that drive up our value, and perhaps those acts are somewhat less important when we aren't really striving or sacrificing to make them happen.
I think it's the acts and actions we require of ourselves to actively defend ourselves that make us valuable, that make us worthwhile. And when those acts are performed in the face of adversity, especially self-adversity, they can often be those most costly while offering us the most to gain.
I still don't know what I'm worth to the world. I have a sense of what I'm worth to my children and my husband and my friends. I know what I'm worth on the open market place, both white and black. It's still a daily struggle to see what I'm worth to myself.
Maybe that's the point, to zealously defend my own evident and defensible Truth, no matter where it lies. Sometimes the cost seems too much to bear, especially when it hurts others or myself, or when it's a catalyst for unwanted change. But that's where I find the strongest and most beautiful stones with which to lay my path. And I know that I can always go back, when I've lost my way and am unsure of where to step next, and chisel a piece of those to step on and move forward, ever kinetic and ever in search of what's next.