Weights and Measures

“Sometimes what counts can’t be counted, and what can be counted doesn’t count.”

– Albert Einstein

People like to measure things. We do it all the time. We also like to use those measurements to determine the value of things (like the square footage for a house, for example). The problem is that this oh-so-human activity gets in our way when we try to value things that can’t be measured. I can’t say how many times I have enjoyed seeing a movie even though “it only got two stars”. You can’t put a number on the value of a movie, or a book, or even most experiences. The ‘value’ of such things is simply far too subjective.

We all know this, and still we try to count what can’t be counted, measuring it with stars or numerical ratings in an Amazon review. And mostly, that’s pretty harmless – because we know just how unreliable such ratings are. The real problem is our habit of valuing, and sometimes even defining, ourselves by a number. Rating movies with a number of stars is silly; rating yourself with a bathroom scale is scary.

You are not defined by your weight or by your GPA. Those numbers have value to people like your doctor (in terms of weight) or your teachers (in terms of your GPA) as data – numbers can be used to help improve your health or to run the maze of the college admissions process more successfully. But those numbers can never define YOU. You are far too interesting and complex and amazing to ever be defined by any single number. Think of all the things you do and think about every day, all the music you like, all the people you care about, and all the people who care about you.  How can you bring all that down to any one number?

It really is silly to try to define people by a number, isn’t it? But we keep trying. Long past the point where we realized that IQ tests didn’t really measure anything, people still use IQ tests for a whole bunch of reasons. I’ve known people who defined themselves by their IQ – that makes me sad because they were so much more.  I’ve heard people say, “Well, yeah, IQ is an imperfect measure, but it’s all we’ve got, so we need to use it.” Wrong. If the tool doesn’t work, and no tool will ever measure something as bewilderingly beautiful, complex, and diverse as intelligence, then throw it away. We need to agree that we can’t appreciate a sunrise, much less a person, by giving it a number.

So then how do we measure a person? If your worth doesn’t lie in your waistline or your SAT score, well then what does define you? I think the answer is that people can’t be defined by numbers or by others. The things that matter–kindness, caring, conscience, courage, creativity, loyalty, humor, your smile, and so much more–cannot be measured and counted. Your choices, your heart and your caring are what makes you so uniquely you. So maybe for today, grab a (big) whiteboard and say, “I love that I am NOT a number!”

Dr. RS HawleyGuest Post by Dr. RS Hawley.  Dr. Hawley is a research scientist (specifically a geneticist) and teacher with a passion for seeing the beauty in the complexity of each person. He believes that it is our diversity that allows for the joy we find in each other and in our communities.  He has been a committed “REbeL” for four years and considers it a true honor to serve on its Board of Directors.