Here’s a thought experiment for you: what is the last thing you think about before going to sleep, and the first thing you think of when waking up? When your mind is at rest and when the only person you have to interact with is yourself, often you can learn something new and reflect on what you fundamentally value. These are the thoughts which you either anticipate or dread, cherish or regret. For me, it always traces back to the pondering of other people, those who are valuable to me.
Human value is a more nuanced topic than most understand. On the surface, human value seems obvious. If you consider all of creation, minus the empty space, rocks and life which is not only conscious but has the means to achieve its desires, you’re left with humans. Humans, compared to everything else, are exceedingly rare and useful – so therefore must be valuable, right?
In theory, all people are inherently valuable—but in practice, are we really treated this way? Often in reality, utility determines if you are appreciated and pleasure determines whether you are loved.
Here at college we see this daily. We measure utility when we regiment the value of a person by grades, by how useful we can be in a team, or how we might be the most human by playing our role as a brick in the wall. We seek pleasure when we bestow value on those who are the most agreeable, the leaders in keeping the waters still and in repressing their own collective conscience for the sake of appeasement.
Are people valuable? Yes, by nature they are valuable and have a right to live, and to pursue true personal satisfaction and peace. Then why change nature? Why would one redefine a rule you not only did not create, but have no authority in changing? The solution is to go with nature, not against it. The solution is mercy.
Mercy can be the only correct way to assign personal value because it is the most virtuous in the case of human treatment. To act for the sake of another is the definition of mercy: nonreciprocal goodness. Through the view of mercy, grades are not even a blemish on the face of the person, because no class or major can add or subtract from one’s worth. Pride cannot exist here because you cannot place yourself above another. Lust cannot exist here because people can no longer be objects for pleasure. There can be no reward for action besides the understanding that you acted in good conscience.
If this idea sounds like bad school counseling, that’s because this is. There is no way you can quantify mercy into grades or ethics into job experience. However, my purpose here is not to show the way to scholarly success, but to show what makes real friendship. You need to leave behind the false satisfaction of utility and pleasure, in other words, you can’t always “do you”. You need to set aside what is expedient for yourself, pleasure, for what is right to others, mercy.
Real friends are those who act for your sake. You should know that you are a true friend if you practice this same nonreciprocal goodness. You should also be aware that, if you are in a relationship where your value is regimented by how useful you are or how good you make someone else feel, you are not in true friendship at all. All people deserve to know someone who is merciful to them, to go to sleep at night with a clear conscience, and to wake up everyday with the understanding that they are loved.