Human Value

A prevailing message in this world is that human beings are expendable. Yet the fact remains that each human being is of value to someone else, and most fundamentally to God. Because the world has become a global village we are overwhelmed by the vastness of the world, yet the world has become accessible with ease of international travel. Our interests in our families and local community have been sidelined or de-prioritised by  an interest in world news and international affairs. As our interest in the world has grown in proportion to our interest in global domination, marketing and popularity, the individual has grown smaller and may consequently feel less significant.

Human life is of inestimable value regardless of age, gender, religion ethnicity nor any other means by which human beings categorise and rate one another

Sanctity Of Human Life

The Bible affirms that we are made in the image of God,  that not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing about it and we are worth more than many sparrows; that even the hairs on our head are all numbered; that before we were formed in our mother’s womb God knew us; that all the days of our lives were written in his book before one of them came to be. It’s awesome that the God of the universe views each of his creatures as worthy of his love and care. The fallacy of deism, the view espoused by many in the nineteenth century that God spun the world into existence and then left us to fend for ourselves. Because of the disparity between society’s messages and God’s reality, we can struggle to rid our minds of society’s untruths. It is more difficult to actualise  or relate to a reality we cannot see than to one we are exposed to on a daily basis. God questions  how can you claim to love God whom you cannot see yet do not love your fellow man made in God’s image whom you do see? Please don’t just dismiss this truth. Allow it to permeate into the deep recesses of your soul where you have been harbouring untruths about yourself – that you are unimportant, your life is of little value, you are beyond restoration. On the contrary, you are significant, your life is of immeasurable value far beyond  what you can see and understand at this moment in time, and you can regain a sense of hope and purpose.

How Technology Fosters Social Alienation

One of the most helpless situations would be to see someone kill himself or herself right in front of you without being able to intervene. This was exactly what happened when a 19 year-old Nebraska man shot himself whilst in an online chat room. This type of virtual communication, which has become the order of the day in our popular culture, may very well be what leads to these extreme acts of self-annihilation.

There’s a lot to be said for direct multi-sensory human contact. With it comes a person’s smell, touch, every expression and gesture in plain focus with the power to move to tears, inspire or repel. Sadly, we have become too addicted to screens in our modern age. As such we prefer to do relationships from behind the safety of a screen. I too have become enmeshed in this new normal by calling my husband from upstairs to ask him a question rather than make the effort to go downstairs and talk face- to- face.

We are missing out on the human sense of being heard. We are being reduced to voices and messages which can be played over and over again rather than mortal, finite beings who have a limited amount of time and energy to give. This what makes us precious – we will not be here forever and time is a limited commodity. Now thanks to the media, people can be uploaded and downloaded at will. We can live forever in cyberspace.

We fail to realise that the living, breathing human being who responds and interacts can never be cloned or reproduced. If we really value one another, we need to sacrifice our time and money to reach out to one another. You will never truly feel loved if no-one sacrifices for you. Individualism is the philosophy which is ruling the masses. We feel no sense of loyalty or accountability to God and significant others.

This nineteen year old may have been crying out for help but it is obvious that his communication with the other chat room users was not motivated by love. Love never seeks to leave such a brutal legacy. It seems more like an act of hatred or vengeance. If we truly love, we will want to stick around to be of service and to encourage the world-weary. Fellow-travellers on life’s difficult road.

We need a revival of community spirit whereby people look out for each other and become each other’s keeper. Secrets and lies always precede tragedy. When the communication lines between family members, neighbours and best friends become closed, issues become buried and not resolved.

Rather than viewing it as a medical problem, Durkheim (1897) saw suicide as caused by the failure of people to become adjusted to or integrated into society and to absorb its values and norms. As a result, he maintained, people with strong group ties are less likely to commit suicide. They are more sensitive to the standards and expectations of the group, including opposition to group dissolution and suicide, and more susceptible to the enforcement of those standards. It follows that an important deterrent to suicide by distressed or depressed people is involvement and identification with others. [Death, Dying and Bereavement]

Mind-set Of A Trouble Shooter

Most human beings when they see trouble coming, head in the opposite direction. That would seem the most sensible thing to do. Yet, trouble is not just an inevitable aspect of living, it is a constant. If we spent our whole lives running away from life, what quality of life would we have? Sooner or later, we must pitch our tent somewhere. It’s a bit like the character played by Tom Cruise in the film ‘Far and Away’, driving his stake into the ground in the open fields of American soil, to claim his land. After leading a nomadic existence for many years, that was to be his home, come hell or high water!

The same may be said of the space occupied by our souls. Trespassers and squatters are not welcome! Even loved ones are not to be allowed to invade our space for too long. I’m not talking about sharing physical space here, and I’m certainly not promoting the lifestyle of a recluse which only suits a small percentage of people. Most of us crave and thrive on human company. I’m talking about the extent to which we let people and life’s twists and turns mess with our heads. You have to get to the point where you determine – “well, if I have to die or go through whatever it is I’m currently facing, so be it, but I’m not going to bow out without a fight, and I’m certainly not going to lose some vital aspects of my personhood in the process such as:

  • my peace of mind
  • my dignity
  • my sense of values
  • my sense of purpose
  • my faith in God.

We humans are so skilled at avoiding trouble that we have developed diverse ways of doing so, from hypochondria to avoiding responsibilities, drowning our fears in drugs or alcohol, to escaping through mind-numbing entertainment and the fantasy world of television, films and make-believe. We’re so afraid of trouble that we imagine it when it’s not there or so blow it out of proportion, as to end up in hospital with hypertension, ulcers or cardiac arrest. Ironically, we are very good at bringing trouble on ourselves even though it is the very thing we are seeking so desperately to avoid.

But God is so unperturbed by trouble that He went ahead with creating humankind even though He foresaw their rebellion and the need for a painstaking and bloody salvage operation by way of Jesus Christ’s atonement for the sins of humanity. And whether atheist or humanist, we cannot deny the unsavoury truth that “there is none righteous, no, not one…”(Romans 3:10). Try, as we might, we veer unto the selfish path sooner or later; in fact, most live quite happily on the path, seeking their own selfish ends. The Bible makes an astounding statement – that God predestined Jesus’ crucifixion even before the foundations of the world. In fact it actually says that he was “the lamb slain [past tense] from the foundation of the world”(Revelation 13:8). God lives outside of time so for Him the past, present and future merge. This means that whatever we are going through, God already knows the outcome.

So why would he let you be born for trouble? Job asked the ultimate existential question –

“Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death but it does not come…?”

I often think that if I were in God’s shoes, I would surely have shelved plan A – the creation of humankind, and proceeded with plan B – computerised puppets; or better yet, I could have the angels stage plays from time to time where they could pretend to be human, and so when the drama got too dicey, God could issue a curtain call and normal, trouble-free life would resume as normal. But, thankfully, I’m not God.

Perhaps, trouble is a tool God allows, for a higher purpose. Perhaps, if there were no trouble, we would not seek God and yearn for a perfect world? Perhaps, that is the purpose of each life – to engage in and accomplish something which will make the world a bit more like the place it was always supposed to be. Perhaps, we must pay a huge price, just as God paid a huge price, before the perfect world He intended, can be restored. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, trouble was never meant to defeat us but define us.

Nurturing The Will To Live

There are as many ways to live by one’s own choosing as there are to die by one’s own hands. The ICD-10(International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition) is more concerned with statistics on the means people employ to kill themselves such as firearms or overdose than why they choose to die by their own hands. Perhaps suicidologists and researchers should be more concerned with what motivates people to live rather than kill themselves. Most people would agree that a greater than average amount of will and determination is needed to kill oneself deliberately. Yet , on the flip side, most people are too willing to let life casually happen to them, not realising that choosing to live also requires will and determination, that is to truly live and not just exist.

There’s no doubt life can be difficult if not traumatic at times. Friends can betray you, love disappoint, your lack of confidence may leave you feeling powerless to change your situation such as bullying at school, rejection, overwhelming debt, an addiction you can’t seem to break. There will always be unpleasant circumstances human beings have to deal with, but why is it that one person will endure and overcome whilst another faced with similar circumstances, will lose heart and long for death. It is not the availability of means which determines whether people kill themselves, but rather the strength of will to self-destruct. One way of asking whether something is good or acceptable, is to ask yourself this question – what would happen if everyone behaved this way? If everyone decided to self-destruct when the going got tough, the following would occur:

  • Societies would stop developing. There would be no point in starting any big undertakings to improve society as the workforce would likely start dropping off
  • People would be grief-stricken because loved ones would be reeling from the non-stop loss of those they loved who did not see fit to share their inner pain and therefore allow them a chance to intervene.
  • There would be a perpetual cloud of gloom and doom hovering over societies.
  • The sale of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication would go through the roof, as people would take them as preventative measures, and insist that their loved ones do the same.
  • We would become afraid of our own emotions, and so in an effort to avoid difficult emotions, we would avoid situations which might engender them. People would therefore avoid risk and challenge, and would become emotional zombies.

Someone once wrote that you will not find your life worth living, but must make it so, and that requires all the ardour of which you are capable. Yes, that’s what’s needed in life – more not less enthusiasm. So, how can we nurture the will to live? Here are some tools:

Tool 1 -We can literally learn to fall in love with life itself. This means we ask little of life and ironically gain much in return. We do not set up unhelpful pre-conditions for our happiness – “I will be happy when…

  • I graduate
  • Get married
  • Get my dream job
  • Earn £…

Rather, we take perverse delight in the little things:

  • The wind in our hair
  • The taste of our favourite meal
  • When our head hits the pillow at night
  • A card from a friend

Tool 2 -Give examples from history of people who used impediments to their gain? Give examples from history of people who used impediments to their gain?

No doubt thoughts are whizzing round your head at uncontrollable speed with hypnotic repetition. You would do well to get them off your mind and on to paper, or share them with a responsible, impartial listener. Tell them how you want your life script to end i.e. what you want to achieve out of life

Tool 3 – Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

The practise of empathy or focusing all your energy on another human being besides yourself. Find an available person willing to talk with a pleasant voice. Engage him/her in conversation simply by asking them about how life is going for them. Focus on actively listening and ask periodic questions to clarify what they are saying.

Tool 4 – Positive self-talk

You are the one whom you spend all your time with. Friends and family only visit. They can’t get inside your head unless you let them in. but you live there. Is it a nice place to be? Record your voice on to a Dictaphone using the following script. Your mind may struggle to believe what you’re reading but pretend for a moment you are a highly paid actor. Assume a cheerful tone. Play the tape back to yourself at least three times a day:

  • “I am valuable to the world”
  • “I am loved”
  • “I am capable”
  • “I have a lot to offer”

Tool 5 -Serenity prayer

“God give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As long as you’re alive change is inevitable. Positive change requires effort, but effort need not be overwhelming. You can pace yourself – step by step, brick by brick. No doubt you feel life has been pushing and dragging you around, taking you to places, people and circumstances you don’t like. Write down all the things in your life you could change with effort.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We did some trouble shooting today. You may need a helping hand. Help is out there – you just have to know where to look. Why rush into eternity. Why not give yourself a little more time to find some answers.

Let’s Not Dwell Too Much On Death

Those who are suicidal, in the vast majority of circumstances have considered their own death not just as a one-off, quick thought just before the act, but over and over again. They may reach the stage where they begin to experience anticipatory grief concerning themselves. It may then become a foregone conclusion that they must die. In the book ‘Dying, Death and Bereavement’, Lewis R. Aiken writes “death row inmates ‘think intensively about themselves and what it will be like when they are dead. Knowing that one is about to die results in …focusing on the self to such an extent that the person literally begins to mourn or grieve for himself.”[Schneidman, 1980c]

Every now and then our life will be interrupted by thoughts of death. There are those who are faced to deal with death more than others. They may deal with the dying and the dead on a daily business such as doctors and healthcare workers, fire-fighters, paramedics, funeral directors and pathologists and priests. Although they visit death in their minds, they should never linger there. Ironically, for most of these occupations, the focus is on preserving life, recovering life and health, and where that fails ensuring that the correct physical, legal and spiritual procedures are met to prepare the dead for burial, cremation and the afterlife.

Ultimately, life is short and for most of us comes to soon. We must focus on life for life is for the living. The down-hearted, grieving and sick can be helped by loved ones and well-wishers by re-directing their attention to the business of living. Where motivation is lacking to do so, then it may be necessary to go through the motions of getting out of bed, planning a special outing or event. We all need something to look forward to. The ultimate anticipation is the afterlife which is a never-ending state whereas all earthly sources of anticipation will ultimately come and go.

How can we make the mental adjustment to press on with living when our hopes have been dashed, we are grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Here are some suggestions:

  • Remember that your loved one would want you to carry on and be happy
  • We do not fail until we stop trying
  • Manual labour which is repetitive such as weeding the garden, mopping the floor, polishing the silver, washing the car can act in a therapeutic way to take our attention off ourselves as well as impart a sense of achievement.
  • You may not think your life is worth living for yourself but you can make a world of difference to the life of someone else in need. Why not volunteer your time, skills to a charity.

Was Life Meant To Be Easy

Just to be born is worth celebrating. You beat tremendous odds just to make it out of the womb, but God knew you would make it. All that you are which makes you unique is there from conception -”From the instant of fertilization, that first single cell contains the entire genetic blueprint in all its complexity. This accounts for every detail of human development, including the child’s sex, hair and eye colour, height, and skin tone.”Randy Alcorn, Why pro-life? Caring for the unborn and their mothers (Sandy, Oregon: Eternal Perspective Ministries , 2004),34

God declares in His Word that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”; and so we should fear God who “knit us together in our mother’s womb” and live in awe and wonder at the miracle of ourselves as created beings. Spiritual life is also vital to appreciate and savour the joy of being alive, without which we are in danger of becoming the walking dead with all the medical vital signs of being alive such as breathing and heart pumping, but no real sense of purpose or why the need to go on living.

The sweetness is ironically in the struggle; a life without struggle is a shallow, hollow existence. We are privy to so many contrasting accounts of varying attitudes to life:

  • Cancer-stricken, terminally ill youngsters such as Stephen Sutton who would have given anything to be able to live;
  • Premature babies clinging on to life despite the odds
  • People so keen to end their lives they fly out to clinics in far off lands where it is legal to pay for doctor-assisted suicide.

These are reminders that often death comes quite unexpectedly.  The lesson is that life must never be treated with complacency, indifference or irreverence. It is a precious commodity which is terminal by nature, so why hasten its termination?

Suicide is now viewed by many as a legitimate means of escape from problems. Although life was not meant to be easy, we can rest assured that it was meant to be rewarding and fulfilling. So, it stands to reason that the degree to which we overcome its obstacles, is the degree to which we will experience fulfilment.

From an early age, we need to develop in ourselves and our children the backbone to cope with life’s vicissitudes, tragedies and heartaches. Each human being, provided he or she lives long enough, will eventually witness and experience these elements of being human – that life can be wearisome, lonesome and disappointing. We must teach them to accept these as ‘givens’, but also recognise that these make up some threads but not the whole garment. Without this acceptance, we fall prey to escapism, and end up retreating from reality instead of confronting it and dealing with it. People escape through all manner of pre-occupation such as entertainment, fiction novels, sports, relationships, legal and illegal drugs. Many of these things are not bad in of themselves, but if indulged in to excess, can mean you are essentially escaping from yourself – which means you are not really living. It is unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time. There are those who attempt to achieve this state artificially through light-hearted entertainment, drugs and alcohol or the endorphin rush of exercise addiction. If we hold these false expectations then we set ourselves up for constant disillusionment. The slightest failed expectation, for example, could tip us over the edge to a state of melancholy or a death wish. 

When young people are told that the sky is the limit or they can be anything they want to be, this sets them up for unrealistic expectations of life. We may think we are doing them a favour by being positive or bolstering their confidence. What they need most to hear is that:

  • “life won’t always be easy but each time you overcome something, you become a bit stronger and less fearful.”
  • “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
  • “people can do things to us on the outside, but we get to decide the person we will be on the inside.”