The Value of Things
What constitutes value? How is it assigned? In some ways, value is culturally determined. The price of art is shaped by what someone is willing to pay based on its socially agreed upon worth. Imagine the cost of a first edition of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” a literary composition that was once rejected by several publishers, or, better yet, consider the price of an original Bansky, a street artist whose work once existed as graffti. These creations, which once held little regard, have garnered cultural currency that has skyrocketed far beyond their original market price.
In other ways, value is historically grounded. Everyday household items can become expensive antiques with time. The asking amount for certain wines and ports increases significantly with age. Historical documents and speeches become priceless depending on the circumstances of events in which they were written or given. For instance, “The Declaration of Independence” and “The Gettysburg Address” would not hold the value that they have today had the outcome of the wars been different.
Value is also individually assigned. A box of old family photographs can be a treasure for relatives and at the same time be meaningless to strangers. Songs written about a certain place or event can hold relevance for some and lack significance for others. For instance, the effect of listening to “The Star-Spangled Banner” will be different for an American than it will for someone from another country. Likewise, regional music, art, and writing will mean more to the communities from which they derive than to those outside of them. These are the things that speak to our memories, that are fashioned by our experiences, that shape our identities and ways of life, and cannot be broadly determined by culture and society. These are the things that are priceless, that hold irreplaceable worth.
What happens when these things go missing? What if, for instance, we have pictures that no longer represent the people in our lives or our community, if our news becomes general instead of local, if the items that document our unique histories disappear, if our stores, coffee shops, and restaurants become uprooted from our neighborhoods and replaced?
Every day we pay for items that sustain us, but we also need to remember to support the things that speak to the meaning in our lives, that may not hold the same significance for those outside of it. Let us always consider true value and not forget the importance of maintaining and celebrating that which contributes toward our individually determined value– the things that make our communities the way they are…rich, vibrant, and distinctive.