When ranking becomes meaningless

Seth Godin is an inspiration. One of Seth’s earnest beliefs is that every individual is unique and capable of wonderful things in their own way. He embodies his truth, and has written about it in Linchpin and elsewhere.

On the surface, this notion of everybody being their own superhero appeals to me. Deep down, I didn’t believe in it. From my experience, I had seen people develop different capabilities. Some people were better at math than others. Some were born to play the guitar. Some had the ability to zigzag a football field and score whenever they wanted. And then there were some who could do all these things well.

But in recent times, I have started to see Seth’s point.  To do so required me to look at people differently – to see them for who they were, rather than seeing them for who I expected them to be.

A person may not be good at math, guitar or at controlling a football. Those are three parameters that are specific to my arbitrary criterion. Similarly, the whole world imposes criteria on people, just as industries do. These criteria come in the form of syllabi, degrees, job descriptions, and they are tested using assignments, examinations and interviews. But industrial design is built for homogeneity. A bolt on an assembly line is made from the same material and machined in the same fashion as the millions that follow it. Is that to be expected of people as well?

The more I see the people for who they are, the more I discover their wonderful gifts. There is Ben who didn’t complete his education, but offers courses in creative coding to universities in Berlin. There is my aunt who quit her government job after 40, learnt swimming and is a national veteran swimming champion today. Or a friend who quit a lucrative consulting job, and creates wonderful short stories everyday. There is no dearth of such examples.

What we look for depends on what we believe in. If our educational and professional systems hold people to an arbitrary standard, we will receive a ranking of how well people conform to it. If these systems seek to understand people for who they are, ranking becomes meaningless.

And then we can begin to see the unique gift that every person is.

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