What makes our lives matter?

To improve our society, we need to study ways in which individuals can be satisfied that their lives matter and in which the society agrees.


For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

We have been hearing these days how Black Lives Matter.  And they do, and have been ignored all too often, which explains the loud complaints.  But all lives should matter, and yet I wonder if they do, and what would make them matter.

The missing horseshoe nail poem tells us of one situation where a life can matter.  Example (not too far-fetched, I hope): A janitor carefully cleans up a slippery mess in the hall of the Supreme Court.  Had he not done that, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have slipped, cracked her skull, and died.  The next day, with conservative Judge Thomas in a coma from COVID-19, hers was the deciding vote in a decision not to overturn a ruling against Trump.  So, without knowing it, the janitor’s act became one of enormous consequence.

The janitor’s life mattered, even though no one knew it.

A somewhat similar situation might arise where an accountant reviewing financial records were to discover evidence of a gigantic fraud against the government.  The accountant’s life mattered, even though he was doing something ordinary, because he uncovered something of national consequence.  And everyone knew it at the time, although no doubt within twenty years most people would have forgotten about it.

Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was a French artist of some notoriety.  Americans don’t know his name as well as those of Van Gogh or Michelangelo, although they should: he was the artist who designed our Statue of Liberty.  (Which, incidentally, was a gift from France to America in 1876, the one hundredth anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.)  Certain Bartholdi’s life mattered, as he created a symbol with enormous impact upon millions of people.

Abraham Lincoln’s life mattered.  He was elected President, but in addition he decided to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing four million people from enslavement.  We know this and we remember it, and his decision to do this advanced life for many in America.

Adolph Hitler’s life mattered, although in a negative way, because he caused the slaughter of millions of people and started the Second World War, leading to the multiple deaths of his countrymen and others.  

Donald Trump’s life is going to matter in a negative way, because of his racism and decisions to lower the wealth and income of middle and lower class Americans.  But there is the hope that these characteristics will eventually arouse the voters to select legislators who will create a better country.  We have already seen how his activities have created a strong desire for change in the Black Lives Matter movement, leading to a nationwide realization that African-Americans have been badly treated.  As a result, statues have been brought down, and there is a strong movement for reparations.  The movement has proved that Black Lives Matter.

So what can make our lives matter in a way that we know? We can work for the betterment of our society.  We can work for the betterment of ourselves (through education, exercise, and earning and saving money).   We can work for the betterment of our family and those whom we love.  I posted the question, “What makes our lives matter?” on Facebook, to which one person commented, “Giving back, paying forward, and practicing gratitude.”  That’s a combination of the things we can work for.

The things that make our lives matter are the things that others find worthwhile and which we find satisfying within ourselves.  Of course, there can be situations in which others applaud us but which we do not find satisfying.  And there can be situations in which we applaud ourselves and others do not.  In the latter situation, even Hitler can believe that his life mattered.  While self-satisfaction is important, if most of the others take a negative view, we may be narcissistic.  

To improve our society, we need to study ways in which individuals can be satisfied that their lives matter and in which the society agrees.  In the United States at the present time, this is achieved by awarding money.  As I have argued before, this is the wrong approach.  Money is just a way of distributing goods and services, and as a general rule the amount of goods and services awarded should be relatively equal, regardless of occupation, so long as the recipient works as hard as he or she is able.  Motivation in one’s occupation should come from self-satisfaction and praise from others.

We should not forget our marriages and family lives   Dissatisfaction there can lead to divorce and to separation of grown children from their parents.  We need to celebrate our spouses and children any time that they deserve it.  In this way, they will feel that their lives matter to us and are of consequence.  We need to show the love that we feel.  If love is lacking, we need to ask whether this is because of them or because of me.  Mental issues should be met openly and honestly, so that family life is as happy as can be.

How do we motivate people in ordinary occupations, like janitors, truck drivers, and restaurant staff?  We find public ways to praise them.  We make posters about them, documentaries about them, TV shows about them.  We celebrate their birthdays, we name streets and buildings for them.  We do for them what we do now for movie stars and star athletes.  And why not?  They are the mainstays of our society.  Today, we celebrate billionaires.  But if there were no more billionaires because earnings were equal, that doesn’t mean that what the billionaires have achieved isn’t worthy of praise.  They may have invented a new kind of transportation, or medicine, or food.  We should let them know that their lives matter, so that within themselves they should feel rightly satisfied.


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