What is a person worth?

Wealth treasure
Wealth treasure (Photo credit: Celestine Chua)

How many of us have really thought about this? We would all like to think that we are worth at least as much, or more, than everyone else, but why do we think this and how do we measure our worth?

The most convenient measurement, and perhaps the most common, is to compare the number of dollars we possess combined with the dollar value of our possessions. This is an easy way to compare net market worth at a particular point in time, but how does that compare to lasting value?

Net worth certainly makes it easier and more convenient for a person to supply their immediate needs and wants, and also provides an ego boost when that person compares their net worth to one whose is less, but what else does it provide?

It can provide a means to help make life easier for a person’s heirs, but dollars and possessions are a finite resources, and will be exhausted at some point. After that point, then what? If a person’s heirs do not know how to properly utilize these resources, they risk finding themselves worse off when they run out of resources than they would have been had they not received them at all.

Having wealth in the form of dollars and possessions also makes one a target to those who covet this wealth. Thieves are incredibly creative in discovering new and diverse ways to relieve a person of one’s wealth, and the various governments simply see individuals who possess more than the accepted minimum as potential tax revenue sources, and they are certainly not shy when it comes to demanding new taxes.

Another problem with temporal wealth is the ease with which it can vanish. Theft, bad luck, poor investments, and inept management can all make it disappear rather quickly.

So how can a person make their life have lasting value?

Let’s start by looking to the above example of leaving wealth to heirs. If wealth is left behind, it, in and of itself, has no lasting value. It is just a resource. The skill and knowledge passed down along with the temporal wealth, however, is the valuable asset. Having resources passed down these heirs is certainly an advantage for them, but is not essential.

The person possessing skills and knowledge, together with the wisdom to utilize them, does not need much in the way of temporal wealth, as as this person has the ability to acquire whatever is needed or desired. This is lasting value, and passing these intangible traits along constitutes a lasting legacy.

As an example, allow me to ask how many people can name any of the wealthy landowners from the ancient world? The only ones which I am aware of are the ones who are remembered not for their wealth, but for their actions, either very good or very bad.

On the other hand, how many of us recognize names such as Aristotle, Confucius, Hippocrates, and Pythagoras? I don’t think we even care how wealthy these individuals were, or if they even had possessions. We do, however, recognize that the value of their ideas was lasting and useful to subsequent generations, causing them to be remembered to this day.

What kind of value are you prepared to be remembered for? A temporary, finite resource or a lasting legacy of trying to help your fellow person and share your skills and knowledge with those whom you can?

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