The Value of Strangers

If you’re wondering how it might be possible to care more about others, say as much as the greater religious ideologies of our world encourage, you might begin by considering the value of others. However, trying to see value in others without really knowing them can be a hard concept for most people to grasp. How can I value someone without first knowing them more intimately? Without personal experience, how can I possibly value those who truly mean nothing to me?

The implication here is that caring for all others unknown to us is quite impossible because coming to know everyone, simultaneously, is impossible. To be sure, it’s a sound dilemma in itself, possessing the same kind of simple logic that gathered followers to mantras about how white people are a superior race, or how women just don’t have the same intellectual capacity as men. In other words: silliness.

As a person deeply moved by the teachings and observances of buddhist practices, I’ve learn to trust the gradual emergence of insight through daily meditation and challenges to my ways of thinking.  One traditional method of understanding that I’ve come to be particular fond of is the use of analogies or stories to generate the foundational context necessary for building greater insight. It happens that simple stories can help to create tears in the seams of old beliefs that can eventually lead to bigger realizations.

Considering the value of others we know nothing about may seem like a difficult concept for anyone; you don’t have to be a particularly cold hearted or selfish person to believe that the idea of caring about everyone is simply the result of misguided ideology. In fact, most people who subscribe to more “practical” mantras are rather innocent, and merely lack the practice (yes practice) necessary to cultivate a new perspective. It’s no secret that people are often set in their ways, but with every session of meditation, reading, or praying, people are training their minds for something new. Changing your perspective, so that it indeed becomes a life changing view and not merely a fleeting experience, is a feat often forged by daily practice and dedication. Making ideas and concepts “stick” to our view of life and the world we live in takes time, but the good news is: when you get it, you get it. Upon gaining a crucial piece of insight that changes our entire method of thinking and understanding ourselves and others, there’s no going back. And, in terms of caring more for others, that’s a good thing.

If you’re curious about how you might begin caring more about strangers, consider this:

Imagine that I were to give you a little carving of a man, woman, and child as a present one day. The figurine itself, being no real feat of great artistry, portrays blank faces and the wood from which they were bore, is unpolished. However, because I’m your friend, with no particular vested interest in figurines, you graciously accept my gift and place it on the side table of your couch in your living room. Time passes, and though the wooden carving sits in plain site, most days you never think much of it and often times forget that it’s even there. On occasion some visitor might take note of it, to which you politely respond with the appropriate tale of how a good friend had gifted it to you, but, soon afterward it falls back into oblivion and out of mind. Now imagine that after 40 years of friendship and having this figure in your home, I came to you and revealed that the figurine of the man, woman, and child was worth $10 million. You saw this figurine everyday, and never thought twice about its value being much more than you knew about it. In this way, the figurine’s value was based solely on what you KNEW about it and whatever subjective value your experience had placed on it. And so, when it became known to you that it was worth a ridiculous amount of money, your perception of it changed.

We can argue over the technical details of this analogy, perhaps that some people don’t care much for money or that the figurine had already carried some sentimental value to it even before its value in dollars was revealed. Whatever the case may be, regardless of whether WE actually value the figure for being $10 million dollars or not, someone ELSE values it’s worth at $10 million, or by some measurement beyond money.

Similarly, though the value of strangers may not be known or even part of our experience of them, somewhere, someone, at some time values them. The difference between caring for others and ignoring their worth lies with one’s ability to assume the worth of strangers. If we can believe that everyone is worth something, that all people are valuable in some way, regardless of whether or not that worth is known to us personally, then we can truly begin to understand how easy it is to value others as much as we value ourselves.

Value exists in all things both living and non-living, regardless of wether or not that value is personally known to us. Human life has supplied us with a powerful subjective experience to which end we regard to be the most true measurement of value. However, if we can begin to understand that the value of people and all living things exists beyond ourselves and our perspectives, if we can grasp the idea that our personal experience is not the definitive end of all judgement, then we can begin to see the value of others; then peace can take root, and there, love can flourish and conquer all conflicts.

Matthew Rosario

American / Writer / Musician