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Saturday, July 20 Local

Perspectives: Measuring our real worth

We live in a society that measures everything. We buy meat by the pound. We buy gasoline by the gallon. We measure fabric by the yard. We judge gold by its purity in ounces. We value diamonds by their karats. We measure the energy of food by calories. We judge light by lumens. We measure electricity by watts. We value an engine according to horse power. The list goes on and on.

There’s something interesting in all of this, however. Even though we may share the same system of measurement, we are not always in agreement with each other on the worth of things. Why? Because we often do not share the same criteria for determining their worth. Our standards of value are diverse. For many things, nonetheless, there are standards that determine or confirm their value.

An appraiser uses a standard formula for fixing the value of a home. There are generally accepted methods employed by analysts to determine the value of a business. There are standard guides to help determine a value for items up for auction. There are accepted ways of determining the worth of your car. But what criteria do we use to determine our own self worth?

I’m not speaking of our monetary worth. I’m referring to our moral worth. Are their any criteria to come up with a standard value for ourselves? How do we calculate the worth of our own life? How do we calculate the worth of someone else’s life? The value of our self worth is key in promoting the dignity and respect due to every human being.

Our society is is in overdrive about human rights, But which rights? The same rights for everyone? Or one set of rights for you and another one for me? Why these rights and not others? What is the basis of these rights?

In 1948, the Third United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That declaration recognitizes that we have our human rights by virtue of our humanity. No legislative, executive or judicial power gives us our innate human rights. They are our moral birth rights.

In “Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights,” the authors say that, “Having human dignity is having the capacity to choose a plan of life for ourselves and to successfully pursue it without interference; and human rights protect human dignity by protecting this capacity.”

By virtue of our soul and spiritual powers of intellect and will, we are endowed with freedom. Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness.

This is what is at the bottom of the human person’s worth. Our worth cannot be dictated by anyone or anything else. We are true autonomous beings capable of determining our own future with the powers inherent to us.

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However, just as each and everyone of us share in this worth, we must safeguard and promote this worth of ourselves and others. Your worth is not any more than my worth. Your freedom to choose and pursue a plan of life does not trump my plan to choose and pursue a plan of life. We equally have that same right. Where is the limit? The exercise of my freedom to pursue my dreams ends where your right to exercise your freedom begins.

Today, in a society where we preach so often about human rights and perhaps don’t respect them as we ought, there is an ever more urgent call to two things: to recognize the dignity and worth of all persons in their ability of self-determination and to be careful in the exercise our own freedom with respect to others in the exercise of theirs.

The Rev. Arthur Mollenhauer is the former pastor at St. Roch’s Parish.