It is important to have a clear sense of our true value in life. Why? It is important because it helps us relate to other people positively. When we know our own value, we treat other people well and develop healthy relationships with them. It is also important to know our value because it gives us confidence as we face new situations and challenges. Yet it isn't always easy to find or recognize our real value.
What do you think gives a person his or her value? If we are to believe the ads on television or in the media, our value is determined by whether or not we own the latest styles in clothes or use the hottest new technology. The ads try to convince us that if we buy material things, we will never have to worry about being popular or having lots of friends. All our problems will be solved.
Is our value as a person determined by our wealth? Is a rich person more valuable than a poor person? Certainly people sometimes act that way. They may treat a rich person with more service and respect, probably hoping the rich person will share their wealth with them. Have you ever noticed how people treat someone who is wealthy in your community? Yet, as the story of Howard Hughes showed, the respect that people give a rich person isn't always sincere. In the end, Howard Hughes felt he could trust no one. Did he feel truly valued? No.
Does being famous make one person more valuable than another? Certainly people flock around celebrities, wanting their autographs, wanting to get close to their famous smiles, hoping to be photographed with them, and be part of the glow that seems to surround them like a halo. Less famous people are ignored in a crowd.
It would seem, then, that famous people are more valuable. Yet, again, famous people do not always feel valued for who and what they are—quite the opposite. Rock star Kurt Cobain, who had all the fame and fans a person could want, took his own life. Do you think he felt truly valued? No.
In school people might be valued for athletic achievements, having the best clothes, shoes, and backpacks, having the most developed figure or body, having nice hair, driving a good car, etc. But, once again, those are not the true sources of a person's value. Even if it takes a long time to realize it, those things do not last, and they do not build self-esteem. There is always something missing.
Where does our value come from? How can we feel our own value? When we talk about value and, in particular, our own value, there are three terms that are important to know and understand.
One term that is used to help us understand our value is "intrinsic value." This means a person's built-in, natural or inborn value. A second term used to describe a person's value is "objective worth"—what other people see as the person's contributions to society that make him or her a valuable person. A third term used to describe a person's value is "inner worth", or the person's own sense of worth. This is related to how purposeful a person feels his or her life is.

Intrinsic value

Democratic nations emphasize the intrinsic or inborn value of a person. They say that a human being is valuable simply because he or she is human. Such societies are based on the idea that regardless of race, color, beliefs, gender, or wealth, all human beings have the same "intrinsic" or inborn value simply because they are human. Therefore, every human being has certain rights that are protected by law. Each person is allowed an equal say in things through voting because all are considered equally valuable. Again, this is because of a human being's "intrinsic" or "built-in" value. This value is the same for everybody.
Psychologists say intrinsic human value can be scientifically seen through observation. When a baby is born, the baby cries out for and expects to be loved, cared for, fed and nurtured. A baby is born expecting the world to treat him or her as if he or she were valuable and important. Therefore, human beings have an inborn sense that they are valuable and worthy of love and care. They don't have to do anything to earn this value and worthiness. It is built into them.

Value from what a person does

Human beings also derive value from what they do. This is called "objective worth" because other people affirm the worth of their deeds. Someone who is a good singer feels valuable when people applaud. Someone who makes good grades and is offered a scholarship to a fine university feels valuable and worthy as his or her scholastic efforts are rewarded. A person who does his or her job well (however humble that job may be) feels valuable as others notice and appreciate the effort made. Don't you feel a sense of value when someone either compliments you or thanks you for having done something well? You are feeling your "objective worth."
It is also possible for a person to feel valuable for what he or she does even if others do not appreciate it. Indeed, some of the greatest people in history received a lot of rejection during their lifetimes. It was only later that people recognized the greatness of their deeds. Such people persevered in doing great things because they knew they were making worthwhile contributions to humanity.

Inner worth

The greatest sense of value and worth, though, comes from inside the person, and it comes most strongly from doing things for others. When we help someone else, we naturally feel good about ourselves and what we did. Our sense of our own value wells up within us and affirms every part of our being. We feel useful. We feel needed. We feel energized and purposeful. We want to do more in order to experience the rush of joy that comes over us when we do something that benefits someone else. Think of the last time you helped out a friend who needed your help. Didn't you feel a sense of joy or happiness afterward?

Nancy Tells:

"I was so depressed one day after school. It was a rainy afternoon, I'd gotten a bad grade, and I'd had a major fight with my mom. I felt lousy. Then when I was checking my e-mail, I noticed that the president of the student council had written me. She reminded me that I had promised to make a poster for a big charity drive the school was doing. We were going to help the poor people in our community through the funds raised. Well, once I made that poster, all my troubles seemed to melt away. I felt so full of life and hope. 'I can do something!' I thought. I went and kissed my mom and thought I'd go talk to my teacher about improving my grade. Suddenly I had all the energy in the world. I felt sheer joy."
We should never lose sight of our intrinsic value as human beings or the intrinsic value of other human beings. At the same time, our intrinsic worth alone will not make us deeply happy or satisfied. We need to achieve things; we need to accomplish things; and, most especially, we need to help others. Genuinely reaching out to help someone, to make life a little better for others, to lift up a fellow human being, fills our own hearts with true joy. We want to do more for the world then. We feel that we want to spend every spare minute helping others. Our lives take on meaning and purpose. We feel we are needed, wanted, and can use our talents and our abilities to make a valuable contribution to the world.

Two Great Movies Explore the Value of a Human Being

The famous movie, The Third Man, is the story of a corrupt businessman named Harry Lime. Harry Lime sold watered-down medicine to hospitals after World War II in order to make more profits. The results of the watered-down medicine were terrible, though. Many children became sick or died because of it. When asked by a friend how he could make people victims in order to gain profit, Lime says, "Victims? Don't be melodramatic." He and his friend are at the top of a Ferris wheel, and he directs his friend to look down at the people on the ground. They look like dots from the great height. "Look down there," Harry Lime says. "Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?"

Harry shows by his words that he is a heartless criminal to whom people, including innocent children, are just "dots" from a distance. Their only value to him is how much money he can make from them.
Another great movie, Schindler's List, also explored the value of a human being. Director Stephen Spielberg, a fan of the movie The Third Man, also has two characters discussing human worth and money from a height. The two men are standing on a balcony. One of the men, Goeth, is the Nazi commandant of a concentration camp for Jews. The other man, Oscar Schindler, is a factory-owner who has employed Jews and who has come to value their humanity. He wants to rescue as many Jews as he can from being killed by the Germans, so he decides to bargain with Goeth for their lives. Schindler says that he will pay a certain amount of money for each Jewish person if they can be saved to come work for him in his factory.

Goeth: (puzzled) You want these people?
Schindler: These people, my people, I want my people.
Goeth: Who are you, Moses? Come on, what's this? Where's the money in this, where's the scam?…
Schindler: It's good for me. I know them, I'm familiar with them, I don't have to train them. It's good for you. I'll compensate you…
Goeth: …You're probably scamming me somehow…
Schindler: Look, all you have to do is tell me what it's worth to you. What's a person worth to you?
Goeth: No, no, no, no. What's one worth to you?

What is a human being worth? To a man like Schindler, a human being was worth a great deal. In fact, because he valued human life, the real life Schindler was willing to give up all his money to buy the Jews he knew from the Germans. The real Schindler rescued over 1,000 Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis because of his belief in the intrinsic worth of human life.
Indeed, the intrinsic worth of human beings is one reason why we should live our lives thinking of other people more than we think of ourselves. When we do so, it affirms our own sense of worth. By valuing others, we find our own value.
One of the most famous examples of someone who recognized the inner worth of every human being is Mother Teresa. She is considered a saint by people of all different religions—and even by people of no religion! Mother Teresa felt it was important to serve "the poorest of the poor." She went to the streets of Calcutta, India, and helped people who were dying in the gutters because they had no place to go. Sometimes rats were chewing the people's feet when she found them. The people were poor, smelly, dirty, and sick. But Mother Teresa was never disgusted by them. She saw their inner worth and helped them into a bed with clean and cool sheets and gave them all the medicine, water, and care she could provide.

Through this, Mother Teresa herself became valued throughout the world. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is at or near the top of every "Most Admired Person" poll ever taken. People who never knew her call her "Mother" and are moved to tears by the story of her loving sacrifices for the sake of others.
Did Mother Teresa have a strong sense of self-worth or inner worth? Indeed, she did. When the Pope gave her a car as a gift, she sold it and gave the money to the poor. When the important Nobel Prize committee invited her to speak at a banquet to receive her prize, she asked them to cancel the banquet and spend the money on the poor instead. Only an extremely self-confident person, convinced of her own worth, could be so firm.
A final piece of advice: Whenever you feel like your life is worthless, look for someone less fortunate than you and help that person out because, as a fellow human being, he or she is worth it. Then both of you will glow with a sense of inner value.

Questions for Discussion

1. What do psychologists say is proof of human beings' inborn value?

2. What is "objective worth"?

3. What is the best way to feel your own value?

4. In the movies The Third Man and Schindler’s List, what material thing do the men compare human value to?

5. Can human value be compared to this material thing? Why or why not?

6. Describe a book you read or a movie you saw where one of the main characters placed a high value on human life.

7. Who are the top five people you know who genuinely think of others before they think of themselves?

8. Do you think Mother Teresa was foolish to spend her time taking care of dying people?

9. What did Mother Teresa want done with the prize and banquet money from the Nobel Prize committee?

Reflection: "Inner Worth"

Think about and describe a time when you helped someone else. How did you feel afterward? How did the person feel?