Recently, I have been seeing news stories and having experiences in my own life that have raised an important question: how do we assign value to things and people in our lives? Now, I’m not asking that like we’re having a garage sale and trying to decide whether or not to sell our fine china or keep it, but I’m thinking more in the realm of social relationships. What really sparked this question for me was reading about someone in Arizona who had left their dog out on their porch in 114 degree heat to die. I was heartbroken that anyone could do such an inhumane and cruel thing to such a kind-hearted animal, and I was relieved that the owner was arrested, however, I got to thinking that my reaction would not have been the same for every living creature. I am arachnophobic, so, naturally, I would love to see any spider dead rather than alive, but there’s the problem. I have placed more value on a dog than a spider, but why? Is it because of their physical size, their role in my everyday life, or something more than that? Does this relate to how we view different people?

When considering the different people in my life, I thought of my family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Are we just uninterested in the people who we don’t talk to as much? How did we get to that point? What if they tried to talk to us more? Would we respond positively? All of these questions have gone unanswered even after quite a bit of thinking because relationships are extremely complex. Still, the topic of assigning value to people in our lives remains relevant because it in itself answers many questions about why we act the way we do toward everyone.

If we’re on a bus and there is a girl sitting behind us, we’re not going to bother to turn around and talk to her, but if it is someone you graduated high school with, you’re probably more likely to smile, say hello, and maybe have a conversation. Throw a long-time friend or family member into the mix and you’d probably go back and sit with them. Is this a social thing? Yes. Finally, an answer to something, but what is it about conversing with a stranger that is so frightening to humans? Are we just too afraid of what the other person might think of us, or do we just not care about them? We don’t have the time or energy to care for everyone, so how do we choose who we give that time and energy to? Some people go out of their way to have conversations with strangers to brighten their day, and others will use as little energy as they can while in the presence of others. Is the answer to this that we assign value to people based on their prospective worth to us in our daily lives? My thought is that we will likely never see the stranger again in our lives, so we just don’t think the seemingly mundane interaction is worth our time.

Here’s where this whole thing becomes more complicated than comparing strangers to good friends and family. What about when we place lower values on people we know well? Did this person do something that impacted you negatively? Were you just too lazy to carry on the relationship with them? What changed their value? Many people have estranged family members and friends with whom they no longer interact, but there are deeper reasons why people push away from those that they know better than just passing them and smiling on the sidewalk. Could it be that they are a bad person? Maybe, but probably not. We all assign different values to different people, and that is just part of being human.

This article is meant to provoke deeper thoughts than what you’re having for dinner tonight. I don’t have an answer to any of the questions I’ve raised here, but I hope everyone will think about the people they care about most, then wonder why they feel inclined to spend time with them and talk to them more than others, and why those other people are less of a priority (and maybe make a change for the better along the way!). Unfortunately, time cannot be distributed equally between everyone in our lives, so we must choose who we give it to and appreciate that which is given to us by others.