On Friday night I went to see Death of a Salesman. Each time I read or see the play, something different sticks out to me. This time, I caught myself pondering over what we equate with value in this life. The theme that struck me repeatedly was that nothing has value unless it can be sold. Tangible, measurable commodities - in this stage world - are the only things that hold value. Uncle Ben continually chided Willy for not seeking riches in the jungle, discounting being well-liked and having good children. (Never mind the fact that those were both illusions.) Ben brings up the idea, "now that (money) is something you can hold onto." If you can't heft it, if it isn't palpable, it is not valuable. How ironic that money is the one thing (although tangible) that we cannot hold onto. In the end (in my eyes) Willy cedes to the idea that money and the amassing of things is what gives a man worth. He believes he will be of more value dead than alive, because his life insurance will provide his family with "value" that they were lacking all those years. $20,000, after all, is a whole lot of value. Willy says, "After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive." While material worth may have increased with his death, moral worth declined.
These thoughts were coupled with some scriptures I have been thinking about. In 2nd Nephi, it talks of priestcrafts, how churches will "preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor." "...behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion." Nephi then suggests that the antithesis and solution to these priestcrafts is charity. "Wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love...Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish... for if they labor for money they shall perish." I return to my original question: What do we value in this life? It seems that in the process of valuing monetary gain, worldly recognition, and praise, we begin to seek not the welfare of Zion. We become so focused on ourselves, our own "needs" and pursuits that we cease to notice the needs of those around us. We begin to suffer our fellow laborers to perish, and we grind their faces, so to speak. We can choose to value equality and charity, or money and praise. It is, of course, not that black and white. But the beginning steps of valuing one or the other take us down well-trodden, opposing paths. Seeing Death of a Salesman was a positive impetus for me to examine the black, white, and gray areas of my values.