This is an excerpt from my book, A Worker's Worth, available here.
There are plenty of competing views about the value of a person. From a broad perspective, many would agree that all human life has value. Some would take that a step further to argue that all people are deserving of dignity. In contrast, there are others who would argue that someone’s worth should be based on their merit, and the definition of merit could be viewed broadly as anything from how much they contribute to society to how well-liked they are. This matter has often been attended to from a philosophical and psychological standpoint, with the results manifesting dramatically across history. Typically, we give worth to anyone and anything for which we hold an emotional attachment, especially if that person or thing represents our internal values.
The part about emotional attachment may sound inaccurate, but it happens when we agree, appreciate, or find importance in that person or thing and then our emotions follow suit as we determine what that person or thing means to us. The emotional attachment may occur because that person or thing mirrors our beliefs about what’s right and good, or maybe our value for a person or thing exists because that person or thing makes us feel better about ourselves. Maybe we do have an emotional attachment to someone because they’re family or they did something noteworthy, but our level of emotional attachment will be strengthened or weakened based on how our values cause us to approach how we feel about a person.
In this, we might even do some mental gymnastics to explain away someone’s harmful behavior, or the negative impact of something we enjoy or need, such as when we make excuses for anti-social things done by others, especially celebrities and politicians, or we dismiss the pollution and slave labor used to create our favorite material items. In the latter example, it could even be said that material things are given more worth than human beings if we’re not going to worry about the impact of the pollution on people and the treatment of the workers. The concept of worth is tricky, because we have different ideas of what should be given worth and how it should be given.