Thursday, January 15, 2009

Answering to a higher authority

The application of standards whether for to people, organizations, or even nations is not easy and not always fair. We are all biased. And sometimes that bias is revealed through preferences or prejudices – treating favorites less harshly than others. But sometimes that bias is manifested in holding certain people to a higher standard.

During my sophomore year in college when I was taking a notoriously difficult Spanish literature class I encountered this type of standard. More than once I was surprised by receiving a lower-grade than I thought I had earned on a paper for the class. I discussed this with La Profesora. I told her that while I was fine with a B if I earned it, I wanted to know why I had been given that grade when all of her comments on my paper were complimentary. She responded by telling me that in fact I had written the best paper in the class, but other the students had received higher grades because while my paper was clearly very good, I was capable of better.

Likewise, when I was growing up my mother regularly told me “I don’t care what other people’s children do, I care what you do”, whenever I would try to bring in someone else as an example of why she was being too judgmental.

I must confess that despite recalling my great frustration with both my mother and La Profesora, I empathize with their position. I hold myself to a higher standard than I believe is fair to apply to other people. Likewise, I hold those I respect to a higher standard than people with whom I have no connection. The same can go for organizations or even nations. I think that this is legitimate, but I also try to temper the tendency with some leniency. I try to remember to distinguish between hopes and expectations – to hold a combination of idealism about potential and realism about what to expect. I think I succeed, at least to a point. After all, while I have been accused of being an idealist, I’ve never been accused of being an optimist.

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