People know and understand the meaning of the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Despite the common consensus that it is figuratively true, it never really agreed with me. Sure, it’s not to be taken literally, but I would entertain myself anyway in the sitting rooms of doctor’s offices and dental offices scrutinizing the photos and paintings on the wall, attempting to find 1000 words of thought. They never came, at least not that many. Perhaps 20 words that I could count, but then I ran out of fingers and toes. When I could count past the number of my extremities, I no longer needed the disproof of figures of speech to entertain me, as magazines could then do the job.
It wasn’t until I was on a train to Antwerp that I came to an opinion on the matter. I was standing in between two train cars, between the sliding doors because it was too crowded on the train to stand elsewhere (people were even standing in the bathroom). It was here that I imagined myself falling through the thin floor, by some accident or miscalculation, and coming to a gruesome and tragic death on the train tracks of Holland, run over by a high-speed train on my weekend getaway to Antwerp. I imagined the ensuing fiasco. The tragedy on the news, the 100 or so fellow passengers that would now need a shrink, the public scrutiny over the safety of public transit, the angry mourning of my family and the policymakers struggling to come to an agreement on a suitable reactive solution. With this image in my mind, of news anchors and ambulances and politicians, I thought how different this was from a picture I saw of a train in India. People were standing and sitting and hanging onto all parts of the insides and outsides of the train in that picture. Surely someone must have died by now with so many people travelling like that in India. But you see, they die on a train and public policy doesn’t change. I die on this train and everything changes.
In a microeconomics class a year before, we talked about the value of a life. Something like 100 million or so, I can’t recall exactly. What bothers me is the definitiveness of which my professor said the disputable fact. It’s not like that everywhere. Fact is I’m much more valuable (in the short term) then a man or woman in the slums of India. I don’t say this with a big head professing my vanity to the world, I say this because it’s true. The value of a human life depends on where it’s been, where it is, and where it’s going.
So if you gave me a picture, say of a train in Holland, and asked me if it was worth a thousand words, I would say to you, “no, it is not.” If you gave me two pictures, say of one train in India and one of a train in Holland, and allowed me to compare them, discuss them in relation to each other, then I think I could certainly give you 1000 words that are worth your time.