What’s a life worth

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Many years ago I watched a film called Saving Private Ryan.  Released in the 1998, it was considered one of the greatest war films ever made; it was nominated for eleven Academy Awards (it won five), was Best Picture and Director at the Golden Globe Awards and grossed more than $480 million worldwide.   It was based loosely on the story of the Willard brothers, who were four American brothers that served in the military during World War 11.

In the movie, Private First Class James Ryan is a paratrooper in the army and one of four sons of the Ryan family.  Tragically, his three brothers were killed in action leaving him the only surviving child of his mother.  After learning that Ryan’s brothers are dead, General Captain Marshall of the U.S War Department orders that Ryan is brought home so that his mother does no have to bury yet another son.  The onus falls on Captain Miller (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks) to find Ryan and bring him home – no easy task.  He chooses seven other soldiers to accompany him on this mission-almost-impossible. Spoiler alert – I am going to tell you how the film ended so skip the next few sentences if you would rather not know.

Ryan is saved but Miller and four of his men are killed in the rescue mission.  In the last scene, a veteran James Ryan is standing at Miller’s grave, asking his wife if he, Ryan was worthy of that sacrifice.  Five lives for one.  I asked myself that question after watching the film.  For the sake of one man, who they didn’t even know personally, five men gave their lives.  Without question.  Was it worth it?  What one may ask is the value of one life?

As a medical practitioner, the value of life was something that I was ingrained with during my training; the fact that every life, regardless of colour, race, age, education or financial status was worth saving.  Fast forward many decades later and that sentiment is in no way diminished. If anything, it has heightened by what I have experienced in medical practice.

However, just staying alive is not enough.  What, after all, is the point of being alive if that life is not one that is filled with joy, freedom, peace and fulfilment?  If one does not have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and contribute to society in a meaningful way, what is the point of being alive? It is the quest for this kind of life or self-actualisation (as depicted in Abraham Maslow hierarchy of human needs) that led to causes like the suffragette movement, Children in Need, Every Life Matters and other movements or organisations that seek to speak on behalf of people who may not have a voice and in so doing, give them the chance of a better life. And while many of these causes became worldwide in their reach, they often started with one individual noticing the plight of another less privileged person and deciding to do something about it.

Mother Teresa, known for her work among the poorest of the poor in India, is quoted as saying: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”  It starts with the one in front of you.

When I have a patient sitting in front of me who is hurting mentally, emotionally or physically, I try as much as I can to give them my undivided attention in those ten or fifteen minutes I have with them.  Sometimes I am able to help, but there are times when there is not very much I can do. Regardless of whether there is a cure for their ailment or not, the greater question is, did I make them feel that they mattered?  That they were heard?  That I truly empathised with them?  Many times when I have felt like I was least helpful in terms of alleviating their pain, they have often said, ‘thank you at least for listening.’  Somehow, in listening, I had given them dignity and showed them that somebody cared.

Abandoned by his mother on a street corner when he was 12 years old, Bill Wilson waited 3 days but she never came back.  A Christian man found him, took him home and paid for him to attend a Sunday school camp. He ended up going to university and years later established a charity in one of New York’s toughest neighbourhoods, reaching inner city children in difficult circumstances with the hope of a God who loved and valued them.  Each week more than two hundred thousand children in 24 countries are shown that they have value.  I wonder if that would have happened if one man hadn’t cared enough to stop for the one?

We live in a world where there is so much noise and activity that it is very easy for people, especially vulnerable ones, to get lost in the maze that is modern civilisation.  Now more than ever, we need to show the people we interact with that they matter, that their voices matter and that we care. We may never be in a position to affect hundreds or thousands, but we can give our time, respect, love and kindness to the one person in front of us on any given day.

For truly every life matters.

Transforming people’s lives through helping them reach higher and further than they thought possible is Oge’s mission. A medical doctor for more than 2 decades, Leadership and Executive Coach, Author and Speaker, she is committed to helping business owners, leaders in the corporate and non profit leaders reach their full potential while enjoying the journey at the same time. Oge is the owner and founder of Reach Coaching and through workshops, individual coaching and motivational speaking, she helps people see what is possible and then supports them as they reach for the stars.

Oge is married to Austin and they have two young adult children Shona and Daniel.