A Perspective of Life and Death

In the movie Twin Sisters – originally De Tweeling after a book by Tessa de Loo – quarrelling relatives separate two very young twin girls after their parents’ death, which results in both girls leading a completely different life. Ignoring the effects of the war on both of them for this discussion, one grows up with loving parents in relative wealth and with a cultural education; the other suffers all the hardships: poverty, abuse, hard work. Thus, the arbitrary choice made by the relatives influences the objective value of life for each of the girls.

Obviously, the same is true for the circumstances any other child grows up with. If life itself hangs by a threat every single day in a war-torn country or in a place where hunger and disease are prominent; if it is an everyday struggle, the contemplation of life itself may not even occur to people – too preoccupied with survival or too malnourished to think that deeply about it. In a situation  where death is a daily occurrence due to war or street violence, children may become desensitized to death and misery – and the same may apply to children raised with violent movies.

Constant fear (for one’s life), a hopeless situation and constant physical pain can cause death to appear more attractive than life and unforseen circumstances can generate a sudden change in attitude . I am thinking of the movie Frida (portraying the life of the painter Frida Kahlo) where a bus accident changes a carefree existence into one of daily physical pain to the point where Frida says that she cannot wait to get out of this life.

Of course it depends on what belief system a person has. Those growing up with religious beliefs that dictate life as the greatest good and frown upon death by choice (suicide, abortion, euthanasia) may find themselves in a moral dilemma if they experience depression or a crippling disease – as do those who grow up in a social setting where life is treated as if sacred on humane grounds, like those opposing the death penalty.  And whether a person believes in a life after death and what exactly that ‘life’ looks like will also play a role.

Nevertheless, those are all objective influences on the value of life and death. But have you ever wondered why two people growing up in the exact same circumstances can have completely different responses? Why do some people become so depressed in our affluent society that they are willing take their own life while others may live in physical or social misery, yet remain optimistic or fight to their last breath? Why do some defy the wrath of their deity by choosing suicide, while others choose imprisonment to avoid war? Why are these objective circumstances and strong moral, cultural or social beliefs not the determining factors in the perceived value of life for individual people and how they view death and disease?

I believe that different people have a different inborn subjective value that causes a completely different perspective of both life and death.

There are those who take life itself with a pinch of salt. They consider it a game or a lucky coincidence and accept that it is not forever. This is the source of slogans such as  “Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out alive” that appear on postcards and stickers. People who live with this attitude tend to make jokes about life and death equally and some of them may even seek dangerous pursuits to ‘challenge’ death; they are generally optimistic, consider a life of caution not worth living and may choose high risk jobs. And as they see their own life as passing or a game, so they may treat that of others thus and they may laugh at disease or at fear.

There are others who take life as a matter of fact. It is something to make the most of and maybe even leave one’s legacy behind. People who live life with this attitude will not seek dangerous pursuits, because that is not a sensible thing to do and death is to be avoided (not challenged), because it would come in the way of all the things they still want to achieve. They may consider life something that deserves respect but may also believe that taking a life can be justified (either their own or that of others in the name of humane treatment, in the name of war or justice). They tend to accept disease as possibly unavoidable and take what is given them.

Then there are those that find life a struggle – possibly due to circumstances – and have a tendency to pessimism. They may say things like “if the apocalypse comes I’d rather be the first to go”. They may fear death or disease, but they may also fear a life of disease or pain. They may or may not actively choose death, but they see it as a relief of hardship, something to look forward to and may favour the idea of mercy killing.

And finally, there are those (like me) who consider life to be sacred. We each get only one and it is serious business that is not to be trifled with. To take somebody else’s life or to even make it miserable is to disrespect life itself. Death (and disease up to a degree) is the ultimate humiliation and to be avoided at all costs. Jokes made about life or death are usually considered to be of bad taste. Nobody should have the right to decide over somebody else’s life – including soldiers, governments or judges – and those that ruin the life of another purposely should pay with their own, since there is no price high enough.

None of the above is right or wrong and none is better than the others. They are simply different perspectives that result from the relationship one has with life itself. What we need to realize, however, is that we do not all have the same perspective and that each perspective deserves respect.

This concludes my little contemplation of life and death. There may be people who have other views. My own belief is that these inner values are closely related to a person’s psychological type and I would be interested to hear what your view is and (if you know it) what your Jungian or MB typename is.

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