What Is Worth Dying For?
What is worth dying for? Most of us will never be forced to answer that question, because most of us will not be in situations that demand life or death decisions. But the question is still worth pondering. Because knowing what you are willing to die for can infuse your life with the intensity of the ideas and ideals you hold most dear.
Most of the citizens of Ukraine likely never had been in a situation that raised the life or death question, either. Yet, here they are, having to decide whether their nation’s sovereignty is worth grabbing a gun and taking on more heavily armed, better-trained Russian soldiers, supported by tanks and fighter jets.
For me, and probably for the majority of you, defending a person we love from harm readily comes to mind as an answer to the life or death question. I would die in my son or daughter’s place, or any family member’s. I would die protecting my dearest friends. I would have risked my life to save my late dog or cat’s life. Many people have been known to actually do so. That trade may seem irrational, but rational thought often has nothing to do with life or death questions. Love is immeasurable. It doesn’t “add up.” It can’t be weighed or found on an MRI of the brain. It won’t be revealed on an electrocardiogram. And who among us cannot empathize with the man or woman willing to venture out onto thin ice, who drowns in frigid water?
Empathy. That’s another immeasurable. And it happens to have more than a little in common with love, by the way.
What else makes the list for me? I would die rather than be forced to inflict grave harm on strangers or knowingly allow grave harm to befall them. I would rather die resisting any government that tries to erase the 2nd Amendment. I would rather die than quietly abide losing my freedom of speech.
How about you? This is not a purely intellectual exercise at a time when the world is at risk of breaking into pieces, but it never really was. We just deny pondering life and death questions because mortality makes us uncomfortable. And in so doing, we deny ourselves some of the passion of living, in and of itself.
What would you die for? That is what you love. And you are what you love.
There is a gut-wrenching scene in Sophie’s Choice, written by the late William Styron (with whom I happened to enjoy a lovely day on Martha’s Vineyard, talking about life). In the scene, the mother of two children is commanded by Nazi guards to choose only one of her two children who will be allowed to survive. The other will be sent to the gas chambers. After fruitless protesting, she chooses, rather than lose both children. Wrong answer. The right answer is, “Fuck you. Take the three of us.” Because, in the end (and, maybe, especially at the end), what matters is not cooperating with evil, not even when life is the bargaining chip the devil holds in his hand.
What would you die for? Think about it. Then, live for those things, with all your heart and all your might.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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