Saturday, May 10, 2008

Report cards revisited

You remember report cards, don't you? Are you glad you're not getting them any more? Well, an open secret is that we never stop getting report cards, because most of us (maybe all) keep giving them to ourselves. If you're one of us (and I think you probably are) then I have both good news and bad news for you, but first let me review the report card.
NOTE: This is a hypothetical report card, strictly fictional. (I'm not showing you mine)
Community development C- donated to community center but that was it
Spiritual growth C+ Attend church every week, don't volunteer for anything
Career/Professional A- That recent promotion...
Family C Talk with spouse an average of 20 minutes/month(*1), with kids 35 seconds/week (*2)
Exercise B+ semi-weekly workouts; personal trainer

  1. average husband/wife 1-on-1 conversation for "happily married" couples is 20 minutes per month.
  2. I made up this 35 seconds/week; actual number may be as high as 2 minutes/week

The details in your own mental report card may be different, but I think we (particularly the male population) tend to keep score like this. I also think that the overall view we have of ourselves is based on the best grade we have. The fictional person getting the above hypothetical "mental report card" probably thinks of himself in terms of his recent promotion and his exercise regimen.

An item of good news (depending on how you look at it) is that "straight-As" is impossible. So if you're not getting all As, relax; nobody is. Why not? Because nobody's got more than 24 hours in a day.
Years ago I read a newspaper article in which the writer asked experts in a variety of fields (sleep researcher, vocational coach, financial planner, physical trainer, family therapist, and so on) how much time people needed to devote per day in their particular area just to get by—not excel,just do the minimum. Added together, the “minimum requirements” for life management totaled up to thirty-six hours a day.
John Ortberg, When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box
(Zondervan, 2007), p.127
Now the bad news (depending on your perspective) is that your life will probably be evaluated, not by the best grade you got, but by your worst. Consider a man who rose to the top of his profession but never exercised and dropped dead at forty-two. Or another who graduated at the top of his Theological Seminary class but was immediately divorced by his wife (and children) for utterly neglecting them while pursuing his dream of a theological degree.

Therefore I propose the following "meta-grade", a grade over all subjects, calculated roughly like this:
  • If your worst grade is no lower than "A-minus," you are delusional and need to talk to a counselor to get a more realistic view of yourself.
  • If your worst grade is no lower than "B-minus," your overall grade is "A"; you're doing what very few people can do. Either that or your self-assessments are whacky.
  • If your worst grade is no lower than "C-minus," your overall grade is "B" because you're well above average. Congratulations!
  • If your worst grade is lower than "C-minus" and your highest grade is an A or A+, that's a sign that you've been climbing a ladder that's leaning on the wrong building and you're in big trouble. Back off on that A/A+ area and bring those Ds and Fs up to C-minus, for the sake of your community, family, health, or whatever. Please!

That is what I think, anyway. Because when you look at the Bible, there are no commands that say "Thou shalt rise to the top!" -- that's just not there! What we do see, however, are things like
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...
Ephesians 5:25
These are all in the vein of "Don't get an 'F'" rather than "Push to improve that B-plus to an A-minus, an A-minus to an A"

So for everyone searching for excellence in his/her own life, I urge you: embrace mediocrity in some things, to prevent a failing grade in other things. Excellence is OK if you don't massively goof up some other area of your life.


Riemannzeta said...

Hello. I just found your blog and have been enjoying your posts. This one is particularly interesting.

Political philosopher John Rawls is famous for arguing that government should be "graded" on two principles, the first of which being that resources should be distributed as evenly as possible among people (yawn; who's going to disagree with that?), and the second being that, to the extent that the distribution had to be uneven, it should be made so as to put the worst-off in a better position. In other words, government gets an "F" unless the widows and orphans are benefitted by its policies.

Seems like you're stating something like Rawls's principles, but applied to your personal development. Very interesting.

RuwanNS said...

great. really enjoyed reading-Ruwan