Measuring Up

Our attachment to—even obsession with—our measures (i.e. results) has led to a disregard for the essence of life itself.  So many of us actually order life according to the things out-there and expunge from human experience what lies within. The vital essence of everyone’s life is essentially disregarded when measures are given such unbridled importance.


We strive to be an A-student in school, to reach the highest title in the corporate hierarchy, or to accumulate vast amounts of wealth.  We identify the self with these measures and determine our value by ranking or its numerical size.  It seems that we aren’t so much the measure of all things but rather that we’ve come to be our measures.


This obsessive drive for measurable results has caused us to create a shallow existence. Everything is a façade in support of a very precarious image we are working very hard to erect and sustain.  It is an image that requires us to unceasingly strive to have more.  However, the good news is that it keeps us industrious!  This is exactly what the original architect of our economic system, Adam Smith, intended.  The following excerpted dialogue amplifies this point:


Questioner:   Isn’t it then all about pleasure and pain! Satisfying our self-interest provides pleasure. Not receiving the approval of others provides pain—something we avoid. Our desire to maximize our pleasure directs us to better our condition in a way that avoids the pain of disapproval.

Smith:   Moreover, in the Divine Plan, each individual’s purpose is to enhance his condition materially—each should seek to maximize his pleasure. Seen in this light, self-interest is the engine of all behavior; that is, it is the cause of the industriousness of humankind, and (in turn) the engine driving the economic growth in society.

Questioner:   It seems that the underlying theme—apart from self-interest—is that people are unknowingly led to improve the welfare of society. Are you intimating determinism as a part of human behavior?

Smith:   Well, yes, determinism is a part of human behavior to the extent that the Divine Plan determines humankind’s purpose, along with passions and behavioral tendencies consistent with this purpose.

Questioner:   What you are saying is that an individual is a fixed, constant entity whose reason for being is to maximize personal pleasure by bettering his material condition, which unintentionally also enhances the welfare of society.


However Smith also acknowledged that the better condition individuals are led to believe (their) hard work will afford them would rarely be realized.  The intent is to keep each of us forever trying to be materially better off, and thus industrious in service to the wealth of society.  In effect this equates to ensuring the wealthy among us become wealthier in the hope that their added wealth might trickle-down to us, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.  With the ever-increasing chasm in household income between the lower 95% and upper 5% the system seems to be performing as designed!  Unfortunately the fact that the system is perfectly designed to deliver what we are experiencing seems not to be grasped by those who could affect change.


We mustn’t forget that our measures, to which we give unbridled importance, are re-presentations of the effects of a system and abstractions of concrete experience. Logically it seems that the wise wouldn’t order life based on abstractions, yet this is exactly what we are doing.


So how long do you think we’ll be able to continue enacting this ruinous vision?  Isn’t it about time to enact a better way?

4 thoughts on “Measuring Up

  1. The majority of people have never been told that “the system is perfectly designed to deliver what we are experiencing” and, in fact, are largely conditioned to believe the reverse.
    How can you persuade others to suspend their beliefs in order to fairly assess which is true?

    • I am not so sure that this is an issue of persuasion as much as it is an issue of will (and courage). Since most are attached to and define themselves by their beliefs, suspending belief in order to view a different idea requires the willingness to let go of what is (likely) one’s (believed) identity–this is where courage comes in.

  2. Pingback: Leadership is Heroic « For Progress, Not Growth

  3. Pingback: Want to Improve Quality, Listen Up « For Progress, Not Growth

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