Change the Measures

GuagesOur measurements of success are standardized tests, grades, degrees, salary, perks and material things. Visions or values not based on these things are generally tossed aside.

During school, the measures are grades. We were graded based on how well we remembered the material we were taught. I acknowledge that some teachers and classes focus on using this information as the premise for new arguments or to question other arguments, but by and large we are regurgitating information we’ve been given. We are taught to follow the rules, rather than to think and question them. We are prepared to take a place in society, rather than to change it.

After school, we are measured by other external factors. How we think about things and create arguments is no longer relevant – except to the extent that these things get us a higher salary, more stuff, or more prestige. As we continue to focus on the more external measures, we give up more and more of our internal self.

Most of us work longer hours rather than pursuing our passion – that passion could be family, giving or that great idea that we buried in our past. There are those that have figured this out, who have good jobs but don’t subscribe to the trappings – they have found a balance. And they’ve done this through thinking, questioning and changing the measure. They know that if they strip away many of the material things they have, they still have an intrinsic happiness about them.

What measures should we adopt? What measures will help us Emerge from the past into the people we really want to be? A few that I’ve considered include how many others I’ve helped, and how much love have I shared with others? Intangible, I know – and yet, to me, much more valuable than my salary, the size of my house, or the type of car I drive.

I do not, however, believe that we’re ready to have these be the only measures we use. Society isn’t there yet. People who identify themselves as part of the “Tiny House” movement, for example, are viewed as outside the norm. We’re just not yet ready to accept that less can be more. So for now we have to combine these intrinsic measures with the extrinsic ones we’ve built society on. The good news is that they aren’t exclusive – there are lots of extrinsically “valuable” people who are doing lots of great things in the world through their support of various charities and causes and I truly believe that they are doing this because they enjoy the “giving back”. We don’t have to spend years in a prison cell, experience oppression, or go off to live in the woods in order to find that intrinsic value. We just have to change the measures.

Think and Question

Copyright: artqu / 123RF Stock PhotoDo we think and question often enough? Are we even taught how to do so? As a parent, how many times have I offered a response of “Because I said so” to a question asked by my daughter? As a student, how often has she heard “Because that’s how it’s done” from her teachers? Are we rewarded for thinking and questioning, or do we feel excluded when we don’t follow the herd?

Is an argument a good thing? Most would answer “no” to that question. I think that’s the root of the problem. An argument, according to classical thinking, is simply a conclusion supported by multiple premises (or evidence). An argument is NOT a knock-down, drag-out exchange between yelling, screaming, red-faced combatants – that’s a fight. Arguments, which come with biases and assumptions to be understood, are the basic construct of how we discuss our positions and try to convince others of our thoughts.

As we’ve grown and allowed ourselves to be molded by society, we’ve adopted the expectations and values put on us by society. We’ve had no choice. We’ve learned not to argue – because by questioning things we are put outside the norm. It’s easier not to argue, especially when an argument has become synonymous with a fight. By failing to argue and instead accepting the status quo and the things we are taught, we lose ourselves. My advice? Question everything.

Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers. – Voltaire

A quick anecdote to illustrate. My daughter is excellent at math, but hates it. I’m pretty good at it, and I love it – this drives her pretty nuts. She’s learning how to do proofs in geometry and algebra, and she asks a good question: “If I get the right answer, why do I have to write out how I got it?” I try to explain to her that the right answer is good, but understanding why it’s the right answer and knowing how you got there is the real prize. I tell her that by writing out the proofs, the teacher is forcing her to think – to take what she knows and apply that to new situations. Here, my daughter is being taught to think and question – and she has already developed an aversion to it.

There are five “big” questions which, according to Christopher DiCarlo, tell us a great deal about ourselves if we take the time to answer them truthfully:

  • What can I know?
  • What am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • How should I behave?
  • What is to come of me?

I’ve answered these questions recently, and found that the process of answering them and the deep reflection that the answers demanded has caused me to rethink many of my beliefs. The answers have led me to more questions.

The biggest question I’ve come to, and I still struggle to answer, is “Why do I do this?” Do I, or you, do the things we do for others? Ourselves? Society? Because we’re happy doing them? Because they are our “responsibility”? Because no one else will? Are we altruistic? Are we greedy?

I know this much – I write these posts because they help me to think through my arguments. If you’re still with me despite the gaps in my writing, I appreciate you – and welcome your thoughts and, of course, arguments.