The Measure on Human Life

Do we measure whose life is more worth living? Do we decide whose life is more expendable?

There seems to be always an uneven reportage of world events. While some wars get tremendously detailed and live coverage, others only make a corner of certain news outlets. Of course, any reportage is uneven by design, because one must choose what to report. This process is necessarily selective, therefore it is rife with prejudice and inequality. So, there arises the need to do more equal reporting, which is of course impossible. As long as we put a measure on human life, there will always be preference as to whose war is more worthy of attention. The current war in Ukrain is more worthy of attention, while there are other wars going on, and other lives lost. One such war is the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

Why do we measure human life? But, are we aware that we measure? Are we aware that we compare? Which is to say, we think some lives are more worthy of living, being reported, being valued, being saved, than others. I think, if we pay a little bit attention, at how we react to events and news, we can see that we compare most of the time. We are always making judgments, as to who is better, who is more noble, who is more deserving of punishments and ridicule, and so on. This is essentially how we react to anything. We live a comparative life. And it is the comparative life that leads to war. It is because we measure that we can ever say some people can die for us to realize our ideals. It is because we compare that we can expend other people in the pursuit of our own dreams and goals. There is always a sense of cruelty in our daily life, because measure and comparison is the essence of cruelty. When we say to a child, you are not enough, look at your friend who is better, we have already hurt the child. When we say to someone, you are the best, you deserve more, we are preparing them for further cruelty. We think, by praises and affirmations we can get rid of the pain of comparison. We cannot, because pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. With pleasure comes pain. With praise and affirmation come insult and doubt. We cannot praise ourselves into glory, because that glory is always built on measure, and measure necessarily expends and hurts others to establish the glory of the self. There is no glory in hurting, in pain, in egotism, in establishing hierarchies of values and worthiness.

It is also because we measure that we have this uneven reportage of the world. We only report what we care about. We only see and look for what we care about. Our care for the world is so limited, because our care is based on comparison. This is what “caring” means to most of us, which is that we care about what we think is important. But, isn't human life important? Regardless of every attributes we can label onto life, isn't life important? When life is important, does it matter if it is yours or mine? Does it matter if it is a specific country or continent? We have a limited life because we think life can ever belong to anyone or country. Life belongs to no one. When we measure life, when we say some are more important than others, we have already owned life. Because we think we can own life, we then make judgments on life. We push life around like figures on a screen, like toys in the playground. We justify, condemn, argue, debate, all for the sake of establishing some truths about life. But, what we want isn't really truth, but an opinion, a comforting and pleasant opinion. Life is not opinionated. When there is the bomb exploding there isn't any opinion about it. Death isn't opinionated. There is no argument about it. There is no debate about it. It is only when we begin to measure life that we have deviated from what is absolutely true, that life cannot be measured.

There is a deep hypocrisy in the ways we demand peace. We only demand peace for some. We only are so enthusiastic about peace when it comes to things we care about deeply. Currently, the war in Ukraine affects the interests of major powers in the world, therefore there is tremendous energy to act, sanction, assist, and so on. But, like the conflicts in Tigray, when there is no vested interests in this region, there seems to be no energy at all from the “international community”. It is not actually a community, because if it is so, then any member's suffering and crisis demand the energy of the entire community. There are only the shadow of unity and figments of friendships. Some countries are deemed very important, while others are neglected. And this neglect will come back to haunt us. This neglect is the breeding ground of hatred and insurgency, is the spark that might result in the flame of discontent and violence. Demagogues are very clever and cunning, like we all are, and they will use this discontent to rise to power, to manipulate and control, to accumulate wealth and resources. Our hypocrisy only paves the way for further crises. If we see that, if we realize the danger of neglect, and the importance to live together peacefully, then we have tremendous energy to act, to speak, to care for all life.

Every crisis is a moment of awakening. Every moment of life demands that we live, actually, fully, totally. Life is the greatest teacher, but we rarely listen to it completely. We do not pay attention to all of life, because we measure and compare, and have limited our consciousness to such a small area. We are only attentive to what interests us, and then we have the energy to investigate or proceed. This limited interest is ignorance. Limitation ignores what is outside of itself. Real equality has no limitation. Real equality demands life to be unconditionally equal. It demands that life is not divided into hierarchies, no matter what form. It demands deep honesty, because we are so happily and able to deceive ourselves into thinking that we have become equal. Equality is the ending of measure. When we stop measuring life, stop comparing worthiness and value, equality is in our very action. It is then a living thing, rather than a dead concept. Then, no matter where people are from, what attributes they have been labeled with, we treat them with equal respect. This is true friendship. This is true community. This is unconditional love.


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Cover photo by Aman Upadhyay on Unsplash