Today I would like to talk about life itself and the value of human life. It will not be scientific, and there will be no actionable tips, yet I think you will find your time well spent. A spoiler alert: the plot lines will eventually lead to learning. For further reading, I selected articles here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Goodbye my friend
This year two strange dates coincided. My eldest son started going to the high school which I finished. There was a 25th anniversary of the suicide of my best high school friend.
My mother had several unsuccessful pregnancies before I was born. When I was 6 years old I almost died of infection. My father tried to teach me swimming when I was 8 and I almost drowned. Since I remember myself I used to think about the meaning of life. Only after the death of my friend, I started to find my answers, and my own suicidal thoughts started to disappear,
Schools are broken
As children, we have many questions but very answers. We do not choose where we are born, how we are educated and which qualities are admired in the society we live in. I was a smart, but very sick child constantly bullied at school. At some point, I started to hate the situation and myself.
Then something miraculous happened. After several trivial surgical interventions, I did not get sick anymore. Moreover, I was transferred to a new class where my talents were actually admired. Even today we are friends, communicating daily over whatsapp. I got the best teacher in my life, who happened to be my math teacher, and I am very grateful for this.
Fast forward two years, I relocated and I was poor and lonely once again. I hated myself once again. Eventually, I found new friends. When I went to University, I got the news that my best friend died. I wrote a poem for the occasion, and later this poem was turned into a song.
Do not die, change
My friend also hated himself, probably because he was very sensitive and had very low resilience. He never talked to me about this. This is how I found out that all people are flawed and fight their flaws. I decided to kill myself, but not physically. Instead, I killed the ignorance inside me that could find no way to help this very basic human suffering. I started to learn.
I had very little understanding of anything except hardcore science, mainly math and physics. My grades were nearly perfect not because I had very good knowledge or intuition. Instead, I was very good at passing tests. So at the age of 19 I started to read everything that did not deal with math and physics, looking for wisdom rather than knowledge.
Do not read, act
Fast forward 10 years I was still quite clueless. I had a Ph.D., 7 years of daily meditation and future career planned. My education started to be wider than the education of my peers. I vaguely understood that the meaning of life is having a life with a purpose, and my purpose was learning.
Then I met Anna and she ridiculed all of my knowledge. Apparently I knew a lot of things, but nothing of what I knew was truly useful. She constantly asked me how I use what I learned in real life, and I did not have answers. My ability to self-regulate the emotions did not stand her scrutiny. Although I read a lot, Anna measured my reading skills and found them inadequate. I understood that I need to put my skills in a test, and that I need to apply them to real problems, and lots of them…
I am more resilient than I thought
Again, fast forward 10 years. This time I was truly desperate. The things I tried to do did not succeed, big time. Even the things I took for granted stopped working. I went to my business partner and told him that no money is left and I do not know what to do next. He looked at me in a funny way and said: “You have the survivor’s luck. No matter how you fall you will always land on your feet.”
This realization was new to me. Suddenly even failures became meaningful, as they showed me that I can survive quite a lot. Never before I ever felt resilient. I could be focused, creative, knowledgable, but this is the first time I actually understood the meaning of being a survivor.
The value of life
In 2002 there was a terrorist attack 100 meters from my home. Two men died in the first explosion, the second bomb did not explode due to poor construction. During the event, I stayed at home with a girl on a blind date. I was not sure about the girl and the feeling was mutual. Due to the explosion, we were suddenly struck with our own mortality and found nothing better to do than loving each other. We stayed together for two years.
The true value of life is not measurable. Clearly, life can be insured for a certain amount, which is very negotiable. Our loved ones will think our life is very important. We will feel the value of our own life fluctuating up and down as we get good and bad experiences. There is absolutely no way I can think of putting a price tag on truly deep experience: joy, awe, terror, excitement, love…
To save a life
Talmud quoted in Schindler’s List as “He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.”
I learn a lot, and it has some strange benefits. I had weird luck of saving the lives of several people due to my knowledge. Significantly more often I had the chance to influence someone’s life in a profound and positive way.
When I think of the value of my own life, beyond the trivial things of being a human and a father, I have no better indication. If I saved someone’s life, this means my life had a meaning beyond the average and above my wildest expectations as a child.
As a child, I thought all I want is to be happy. Already as 20 years old I understood that happiness is elusive. If we try to catch it, we will be deeply unhappy. Investing in experiences is better than buying possessions. I think the experiences I learned from are more valuable than the experiences I found comfortable.
I love David Gilmour, and his performance of Comfortably Numb. The song exposes a funny experience of Roger Waters: “He was unable to focus, but also realized the fans didn’t care because they were so busy screaming, hence comfortably numb.”
The combination of comfortable numbness facing lifechanging events and deep transformative power of these events are much more meaningful for me than the elusive happiness.
I committed to lifelong learning when I was 6 years old and discovered the science of physics. Then again at the age of 19, learning philosophy, psychology, and arts. Once more when I met Anna and learned speedreading. Yet again, when I saved my grandmother’s life from medical negligence. It seems to be a recurring theme. The funny thing: I never stopped learning and I hope I never will,
The way we measure our subjective time is via experiences. The experiences are often measured by what we learn from them. Currently, I would say that the value of life can be measured from our ability to learn from it.
I am guire sure my answer will change as I grow older, and there is a deep beauty in this. Hopefully, I will never stop learning.