Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.
“Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end.” Immanuel Kant, German philosopher
“His [humankind’s] greatness rests solely on the fact that God in his incomprehensible goodness has bestowed his love upon him. God does not love us because we are so valuable, we are valuable because God loves us.” Helmut Thielicke, German theologian
Is the value of property or people intrinsically or extrinsically determined? In other words, is their value independent of external assessment or is it determined by another party outside the property or person being evaluated? Since I am a businessman, not a philosopher or a theologian, I acknowledge I might be out of my depth here!!
In the investment industry, market value is always externally determined. That is, the price of a stock at any point in time is determined by what someone else is prepared to pay for it. Neither my original cost nor my sincere belief regarding the intrinsic value of the stock is relevant if I must sell today.
On the theme of market value, I vividly recall a business trip to Hong Kong many years ago prior to its reunification with the mainland. Between meetings, I went shopping. In the first store I entered, I engaged in some animated bargaining with the shop owner over the price of an item.
Afterward, I went next door. Unlike my previous experience, several store staff stood idly by while I browsed. No one took any interest in me until I asked them if they were open to negotiating the posted price. They looked at me somewhat incredulously and said “no.”
Subsequently, I learned that this particular store was owned by communist China and did not engage in capitalist activities like bargaining. Given the presence of competition next door, I suspect that this government-owned store was not particularly profitable but it did provide a lot of employment! In any event, in open and competitive economies, property value is determined externally through the interaction of buyers and sellers.
Likewise, the economic value of an individual in an open economy is externally determined, Kant’s earlier perspective on humans as ends notwithstanding. In fact, from a marketplace perspective, the individual person is a means to an end, not an end. Compensation for work performed is usually based upon a person’s utility in helping an organization achieve its goals.
If one’s worldview excludes the existence of God, it is intellectually difficult to find any grounds for valuing a person outside her or his economic utility. According to the Christian worldview, however, God, the one who created everything including humanity, exists. As a result, He is the one who ultimately determines a person’s worth, not other people. As per the opening quote by Thielicke, “we are valuable because God loves us.” The Bible provides the following profound perspective on God’s love for us and our utility to Him:
We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him. (Romans 5:7-8, The Message)
In other words, God places an infinite value upon each and every person as measured by the enormous but unquantifiable price He paid and irrespective of a person’s utility to Him. Here is a question to ponder:
How would my behaviour change if I viewed every single person including employees, bosses, customers, family members and even people with whom I strongly disagree as having infinite value?
Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.