Monday, April 2, 2012

April 2nd, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

Once again this week I have witnessed too many accidents on the road – one particularly bad one seen from the sky. Human beings disturbingly squashed beyond recognition on the road, and no sign of any person trying to stop and reduce the horrendous mutilation of their corpse. Vehicles leaving the road many tens of meters, inverted, cabs depleted to nothingness, ravaged by the ‘opportunists’ seeking yams, tyres or lights. So many of these accidents are avoidable, and yet they will not be avoided until the value of human life is raised in our society.

What is the ‘value’ of a human life? According to one lawyer I spoke with, ‘In the USA you expect about four million dollars, in Europe around one million dollars and in the developing nations a few tens of thousands of dollars’. Shocked, I asked for an explanation. ‘It is all based on earning potential’. Basically, the lifetime earning of the person is their ‘value’. According to my ‘forty years working calculation’, it would appear that, in the USA, there are, supposedly, lots of people earning one hundred thousand US dollars per year. In Europe, twenty five thousand dollars seems to be the case. In the developing nations, a few thousand dollars a year is seen as reasonable.

I guess that there is some sort of reasoning in the lawyer’s calculations, but for me, a life is a life, and it is worth the same – regardless of age, gender, race or occupation. I don’t care if you are rich or poor; young or old; man or woman; you have the potential to contribute to your society, and to the world in amazing ways. Is a lawyer ‘worth more’ than a cleaner? Is a pilot ‘worth more’ than a ticket clerk? Is a farmer ‘worth more’ than a Ship’s Captain? Is a woman worth more than a man? (please be careful who you ask the last question to!)

We all know that we are all where we are thanks to a few ‘co-incidences’. Where we were born. Our parents, or in some case, lack of parents. Our relatives. Our friends. Our access, or not, to education. Our opportunities, taken and passed up. The presence or absence of a Y chromosome… OK, we took what we had and used it together with our personalities, but how much of our personalities were related to our ‘lottery of birth’? All the same, does that make any one of us worth more than another?

In monetary terms, and the terms of the lawyer, I can understand ‘valuing the output of a person’s life’. But how do you really value it? Mother Teresa was worthless according to the lawyer-calc! What about a priest? Perhaps, if the lawyer’s calcs are valid, a drug dealer has more value? Surely not! By the same calculations, many people have ‘dropped in value’ because they have chosen to earn less and do more. Yet, they remain the same people.

Personally, I value the life of the ‘Mother Teresa type’ more than the ‘lawyer type’ or ‘drug dealer type’ any day! Every day, judges around the world have to ‘value’ people, and it seems unfair. There was a famous case in the UK where a farmer was sued for loss of earnings by the thief that he had shot stealing from his own farm-house! Perhaps judges can put a ‘cash value’ on their heads, but, for me at least, that is not the real point of ‘valuing life’.

I recently received an image in my e-mail of two people; one was Whitney Houston, the other of a few severely starved children from a developing nation. The caption read ‘one star dies and a million mourn. A million children die and nobody mourns’. It is not an easy dilemma, nor a fair comparison; the star was well known, media-exposed during her life and loved as a performer. The children depicted would have lived, briefly, and died in obscurity, apart from an intrusive photographic image of their frail forms, sold to the tabloids for more than the cost of saving many of their souls. My mother’s regular comment at scenes such as these was, ‘there, but for the Grace of God, go I.’ - and it is true, the hand of fate deals it blows. Yet, I fail to accept that it is something that we cannot change. I know that I have the ability to change some things, not all, but some – and so do you.

We cannot change the fate of a movie star – that is far beyond our realm of abilities. We can, however, do something to change the fate of the children who may otherwise live, suffer and die in obscurity. However, by doing so, we will probably lower our ‘financial value’ in the lawyer-calc system!

Perhaps the term ‘value’ human life in itself is the problem. Perhaps we should we use the term ‘Respect’, ‘Honour’, ‘Revere’ or perhaps ‘Hold in high regard’ human life?

I see some people value their mobile phones more than their children. I see that they talk to their mobile phone instead of their genetic outputs. Again, perhaps they respect their mobile phone, honour and revere it, holding it in higher regard, than the very beings that they have brought into the cosmos? Perhaps they perceive that their phone cost more than their offspring?

We should all ask ourselves a simple question; ‘how much do I value my own life?’. In my case, my own life, to me, has little value, I am simply passing through, and feel that I should, and can, reach out and touch as many other lives as possible – a sort of ‘invest and multiply’ feature, or should one say ‘app’ in today’s world? Changing the status quo always starts with ONE person, or rather lots of ‘one persons’ across the world, acting on their beliefs.

Perhaps that is the feature we need to understand. Our lives have little or no value unless we are able to share what we have, be it knowledge, funds, experiences or empathy with others. Perhaps our real value lies in the multiplication factor. I have spread joy, and sadness. I hope that I have spread more joy than sadness. I hope that I have done more good than bad. I hope that I have made more good decisions than bad ones. I hope that when I am no longer consuming oxygen (which I hope is a long time from now!), that others will value in some way, probably not monetary, my life. Hopefully, there will be evidence of my passing, in terms of how my actions, direct or indirect, tickled a change in how others are living their lives, with value, whether they knew me or not… I am just a breath passing over an ember in the bush, and all I hope for is to fan it a little, perhaps to raise a small flame, and to help to set the bush-fire of ‘valuing life; all life’ in motion across the savannah, joining the sparks, embers and breaths of others who value ‘true life’, and being a small part in the changes that make the planet a better place for those who come after us.

How do you value your life?

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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