The Measure of a Man

December 4, 2002

My somewhat socialistic sensibilities, and my sensibilities as a human being, become easily offended by those who would measure the worth of a person by the amount of money that person makes, by what university a person got their degree from, and by the number we label the intelligence quotient.

Man cannot be measured by these things, though he may measure things by them.

A degree from MIT makes of you no better a person, no worthier a soul, than someone who has no degree at all. It does signify one thing, and that is the thing that you can use when you attempt to qualify a person’s value. It measures hard work and dedication. It signifies that you have made a great deal of effort in achieving a goal. That is the important thing; not the piece of sheepskin you will frame and save for display.

“Better” is a dangerous word to use when discussing the larger aggregate of what makes a person. You can easily, and with impunity, say a person is better educated, has a better job, or is better at cooking a meal. But saying better to qualify a person… it smacks of a certain repugnant elitism; a kind of elitism that will tell you that you are worthless or you don’t measure up to some surface standard that others determine has worth.

A man, who with full knowledge, enlists in the army in hopes of defending his home, his family and friends, and some cause he believes in, is not a man to be scorned. That man is not expendable. He is not to be viewed with the same grotesque superiority with which we often view those in the service industry. The superiority that tells us service is something to be ashamed of; as if service were somehow lowly, making of a man’s life the same things and thoughts we apply to kitchen utensils and floor sweepers.

A person who, despite what others around him may meanly deem his “station” in life, continues to do his work, continues to participate in what others view as work fit only for pack mules, is a person to be admired, not denigrated.

There is a needed division of labour, certainly, but I never could take a bite out of class structure without feeling nauseous at the flavour I got from it; or nauseous at the taste of the taint others give it. Don’t get me wrong, there is a little bit of truth to the Orwellian axiom that “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” But only in the sense that some are born with abilities that are clearly different from others, and which are either more or less valued in our social structure: the talent to paint, to understand mathematics, to be a mechanic, to walk a straight line even, are examples of these.

What of IQ? It is an arbitrary thing. It measures nothing. It measures – or so they tell us – a person’s aptitudes. I don’t buy it. How can questions of popular culture, for example, test aptitude? Particularly when those questions might be on a piece of paper in front of someone who is merely uninformed. If you want to tell me that IQ makes a person better, I’ll argue that into the dirt as well. Consider the following two people.

Person 1: Giving, loving, generous, a talented artist, a parent of five talented children, a physiotherapist, and a homemaker.

Person 2: Talented computer programmer, but socially inept, major control issues, arrogant, domineering, and derisive of anything he does not count within his own sphere of interests.

Which of those two would you consider “better” as a human? Better as a member of society? Now, does it matter which one has the higher IQ?

“As we pause to reflect the legacy of this remarkable man who was in our midst, it might be useful to consider that it was his accomplishments that made him impressive “? but it was his character that made him great.” Paul Lauren (see: http://www.umt.edu/comm/w0102/measure.html).

“If the measure of a man is what he has done for his family, colleagues, countrymen, and fellow sojourners in this life, I have been blessed indeed, for real success is marked by what we give in return for what we have been given.” Rodrigue Mortel M. D. The Measure Of A Man, Penn State Medicine, Fall 1998.

“I saw a very important and very great man the other day. What made this man great wasn’t the car he was driving. He had a beat up old pick up truck. What made this man great wasn’t the clothes he was wearing. He had on a torn tee shirt and blue jeans. What made this man great wasn’t his money or his job. His worn out work boots and the hard hat in his truck were evidence that he worked hard for what little he had. What made this man great and important in my eyes was that he had stopped along the side of the road to give an old lady with a stalled car a jump start.” Joseph J. Mazzella. http://www.angelfire.com/wv/joem/

I quote these things not in reference to the people they are about, but because of the intent of why they were said, the qualities they detail.

One can also not truly measure a person’s value by whatever pain or strife they may have suffered in their lifetime. Although this may sound very cruel and cold, having suffered some tragedy does not increase nor decrease how “worthy” someone is simply by the act of having suffered said tragedy. Suffering does not make a person better; what makes a person better is how they deal with that suffering and what they do with it afterwards. When Buddha said that the only truth in life was suffering, he did not mean suffering for its own sake. Buddha meant that without suffering we would not strive to better ourselves, because there would be no need for us to do so. We cannot, in one sense, become better without it; but we also must not become slaves to it.

You can’t truly take the measure of another. You can compare and contrast a person to others, but that is all. If you absolutely cannot do without measuring someone up, measure them by these things, for it is by these things that a man truly proves himself: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honour, integrity, personal courage, and dignity.

Lonita has been an AU student since early 2002, and is studying towards a Bachelor of General Studies in Arts & Science. She enjoys writing, creating websites, drinks far too much tea, and lives in hopes of one day owning a plaid Cthulhu doll. The most exciting thing she’s done so far in her lifetime is driven an F2000 race car, and she’s still trying to figure out how to top that experience. Her personal website can be found a http://www.lonita.net and what you can’t find out about her through that, you can ask her via email: lonita_anne@yahoo.ca

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