how much are you worth?

Wednesday 20 October 2010

It’s hard to believe that exactly one week ago, I watched the last of 33 Chilean miners stranded 1/2 a mile under the surface of the earth emerge from a  cylindrical cage only 28 inches in diameter to greet family and friends he had not seen in over 2 months.

It’s quite a remarkable story: 33 Chilean miners are trapped underground and feared dead; 17 days later, it’s found they’re alive but still trapped; drilling begins to dig a secondary entrance to their space, expected to take up to 4 months to complete; instead, drilling moves faster than expected, and the last miner is pulled to the surface 69 days after the odyssey began.

I stayed up way too late Tuesday night to see the first one, two, three miners emerge, and I couldn’t help but feel anything but sheer and utter amazement at this feat.  But after I slept a few hours, went to work, and returned home to watch the final miners return to “freedom,” blessing their saviors and greeting their loved ones, my thoughts wandered elsewhere…

First, I thought what a great analogy this could be for people of faith, especially Christians.  You have a creator/god (here: the Chilean government) willing to pull out all the stops to save you from this horrible, dark, isolated predicament.  In this situation, you (the miners) are worth doing anything for and will be saved no matter what it takes.  This is the positive outlook.

But then, as my mind often does, I moved to thinking about the subject a little differently.  What DID it take to rescue these 33 men?  On the night of the rescue, I found a report that put the cost at about $10 million dollars, but a more detailed article by the BBC reported estimates between $10 and $20 million dollars.  If we take the middle of the estimates, these miners were apparently worth the equivalent of 1/2 a million dollars EACH!

Before I go on, I must say that the unintentional death of anyone is a tragedy, and if these 33 men would have died, this would have been no different.  And if this event helps to continue improving political relations between Chile and Bolivia, that too would be a positive outcome.  But I couldn’t shake the dollar sign with such a large number behind it.

What does it take to save a life, anyway?  How far would $500,000 (from one miner, or $15 million total) go in improving, or “saving,” the life of a child living in poverty in any number of communities across the U.S.?  What sorts of positive changes could you make for that kind of money to “save” the life of a child, and how many could you save with it?

Perhaps my first question of those three is the most important here: What does it take to save a life?  Part of the problem here is the concrete vs. the abstract.  We know that without our assistance, the miners would die, but if  we’re willing to spend the money to bring them back to the surface, they survive.  No action/$ = death.  Action/$ = life.  It’s much harder to do that same equation with those whose lives are threatened in many other ways where larger change needs to happen, but we’re a society (and world, apparently) that likes to do the quick fix, see the success, and be done.

However, while we can’t assuredly say spending $500,ooo to put 10 young adults through college would “save” their lives, creating wells for families without clean drinking water or supporting sustainable agriculture in areas where thousands die of hunger and malnutrition would certainly save lives — and here I mean literally save lives — at a much better ratio than 500,000 to 1.  But we don’t see it to use our money that way, to share our money that way, with “those” people.

I’m sure you know at least some of those people who need saving, maybe even personally; it’s about time we changed our culture to create a world where the money trail shows that every person’s life is valued.  As long as there are still those with money to spare and those who still need saving, we haven’t made it there yet.


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