This I Believe

CS - Los Osos, California
Entered on June 19, 2007

Valuing the Immeasurable

I believe that anything truly essential cannot be measured. Our societal fascination with statistics has led us to base our understanding of the world and one another on abstract numbers and measurable outcomes. In doing this, we’ve turned away from anything truly significant.

There’s a compound word that shows up in the Bible. My mom spent her life living it. The word is lovingkindness – not just loving, not just kindness, but the two run together into one word. There’s a gentleness, a certainty, a rightness to the word, just as there was to my mom, who contributed to this world for seventy-one years. Would her essence have been any different had she passed away at sixty-eight, at ninety-three? No. Lovingkindness is immeasurable – such a thing is far too important to measure.

My wife Ellen practices her lovingkindness by volunteering at the county pound. A look through a photo album she’s titled “Happy Dog Stories” reveals that in the last six years she’s saved 134 dogs. Would anything significant change if she had saved two more dogs, or three fewer? No. What’s significant is that Ellen is crazy about dogs and I am crazy about Ellen.

I’m also crazy about working at middle school, where I am visited every day by dozens of incredible human beings. They think and ponder. They laugh and cry. They befriend one another. They push themselves to new heights, they push limits, and they push each other in the halls. One who was failing earlier this year was the first to figure out Tuesday’s anagram. One of them could hardly pull herself out of depression to come to school yesterday, but she did. A dozen brought the most recent writing assignment to me a week early for ideas on how to improve it. Some have discovered the wonder of the written word this year. Some have spent all year harvesting lemons. Many of those have discovered how to make lemonade.

How does society determine the progress of these incredible human beings? We sit them down for hours to fill in bubbles with #2 pencils. We have them choose between A, B, C and D. We score and norm and tabulate. We CAT6 them and STAR them and CAPA them so they’ll be ready to be CAHSEE-ed and PSAT-ed and SAT-ed in high school. Then we study the numbers as though a 77.8% or a raw score of 432 could actually define a human being.

Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted,” while Mary Baker Eddy said, “A man walks in the direction he looks.” Our focus on the measurable causes us to walk further and further from the significant. As we walk toward raw scores, percentages, GPAs, and APIs, age, height, weight and number, we walk away from wisdom, creativity, perseverance, and true understanding. Worst of all, we walk away from lovingkindness.