We live in a smoke-and-mirrors era, especially when it comes to numbers. Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. It’s all you hear. It’s how we judge, in our strange time.
“How much is he or she worth,” we ask — as if there is a price tag on humans!
A ridiculous expression.
One time, years ago, I wrote an article for New York Magazine (“The Price of Life”), on how the New York State Health Department was formulating equations to gauge how much monetary value certain people in various communities could be calculated as having, so officials could determine whether it was worth it to invest what was needed to prevent cancer from groundwater pollution.
The range was from $49,226 to one million a person (in 1979 dollars), estimates that could be used, said a state health department report, “to describe the benefit of reducing the risk of death”!
Income and age were primary parts of an actual equation when this is of course entirely wrong: To God, every single human being is equally and infinitely valuable. God loves us all the same — as if each one of us is the only person on earth. You hear that time and again from those who have near-death experiences.
Count on this: We all have equal missions.
Yet, our society of celebrity and hyper-capitalism would never let you know that. Have we forgotten that when a multi-billionaire passes away, he brings zero with him?
And that Jesus said the last will come first, that it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than a rich man through the narrow gates of Heaven (not to say there aren’t wealthy people who are holy, just that it’s hard to focus on money and figures and God at the same time).
Bill Gates is “worth” $87.7 billion, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon even more, while the average America is in the negative column (average household debt: a whopping $132,000!).
Is any human worth less than nothing?
Wall Street: largely paper value, smoke. Even those who buy gold often buy the certificates or stock in it instead of the real thing. Smoke and mirrors, this would be, if everything came crashing down. A house “worth” $300 million? Smoke in the same glass.
Folks play around in day-trading and “make” a fortune (gambling). Mirrors. Smoke. You have heard it said: there has never been a U-Haul behind a hearse on its way to the graveyard.
There is also “smoke-and-mirrors” when it comes to TV and the internet. One religious show boasts that it reaches three or four hundred million people. That would be twice as high as the most who ever viewed the Super Bowl and of course isn’t close to its true audience (but rather the number of people who subscribe to the cable stations of which they are but one channel).
You see the same on the internet: x-number of this or that.
And now, nearly everybody has Facebook (the largest mirror in history) and their own private Nielsen rating. This is via “reaches” and “likes” and “shares” and “friends” — when no one, including the folks at Facebook, is really certain how many are “reached” and what a “like” actually translates to in the long term and certainly not who is a true “friend.”
There are companies that sell “likes” to build up bragging rights.
Vapor. In the parlance of one Pope, the “smoke of Satan”?
From Wall Street to Las Vegas to Hollywood and even in religious circles, we judge the success of an event by numbers, something we all occasionally succumb to — when what Jesus said was to feed the flock, not count it.
A person who permanently touches another in whatever way — sitting bedside with a dying friend, helping the homeless — is “worth” more than can be expressed in any number.
This is the truly “rich” man!
“Heed not ephemeral numbers,” says a word of knowledge, “but what touches the spirit.”
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