At the moment, I’m planning on joining the Australian Army Reserve (yes, Army ‘Lite’). This means, as you might imagine, that I have to become a lot fitter than I am now.
As a part of this, there is a lot of measuring to be done. I performed some baseline exercises to judge my starting fitness and have since been progressing with exercises. I didn’t do very well, but there are certainly some guidelines that I have to ‘measure up’ to.
I understand the reasons for all this – it’s not just about being fit enough for service, but also being fit enough so as to not injure oneself during basic training. Every step of the way is measured and judged. X number of sit ups, Y number of pushups, per workout.
I also find myself subconsciously measuring myself against the others around me and, frequently, against my will. Am I more or less fit than them? Am I able to 15 or 16 push-ups in one minute (on a good day!)? All measurements will come down to an eventual evaluation of my personal fitness.
It’s a fact of life that I’m going to be forever wondering how I shape up to the standards around me. There is a limit to how much control I can impose upon myself. There are always ‘knee-jerk’ reactions to situations, perhaps when you see a shady-looking person down the street, or a homeless person mumbling to themselves.
A wise person once said that our first reaction to a situation is what we have been conditioned to do. It happens by instinct or by long (often unaware) practice. Our second, more delayed reaction is what we rationally believe.
To put a common example of sexism to this test, take the example of a crying person. Obviously our reaction to the situation depends vastly on who we are, what the context is, so on and so forth. Say we’re in the midst of the city and the person in question is on a park bench, casually dressed. For many of us, the first reaction is that we will do nothing.
We first believe that it is none of our business (understandably so) and that we should therefore take no action (also understandably so), but depending on who the person is, we will likewise make a vast number of assumptions. We are perhaps least likely to assist a homeless person, especially a homeless, non-white man. The best among us have ingrained racial prejudices, however deep below the surface. These are our knee-jerk, conditioned reactions. They are split-second judgements that are useful on the vast plains of Africa where we first evolved and needed to be able to quickly judge the danger within a situation.
In a suburban, western environment, though, they often end up harmful. Then our second judgement kicks in. Understanding on an intellectual level that there is (perhaps) no substantial or immediate danger allows us to judge on our ethics and morals.
The point is, judgement and measuring is unavoidable. When someone gets an easy question wrong, we might assume they’re stupid. There is so much that we do not understand beyond such a simple, average situation.
I can tell you over and over again until I’m utterly breathless that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that won’t ever change our instinctual knee-jerk reaction. Our second reaction, or second judgement, however, is much easier to change. It’s scary, yes, but doable.
Back to measuring. Perhaps one of the most common measuring-points in western society is that of employment. When you meet someone, one of the first half-dozen questions you ask them is “what do you do for work?”
We immediately impart upon this person some judgement in the back of our mind as to the quality of this person based on our ideas about their chosen profession. If they work in fast food, we might consider them a loser or burnout, as with waiters and retail workers.
It’s utterly unfair, since how far up the food chain someone is in life has virtually no bearing on the quality of their person. If there is any relation, I would point to the fact that people further up the food chain have the tendency to be a lot worse, if only for their proximity to power.
The thing is, those working as waiters or in retail and fast food are some of CRITICAL TO SOCIETY. I understand that doctors are needed to cure our ills, lawyers are needed to help maintain society, and executives help manage large-scale business transactions to bring services and the like to people. The thing is, the ‘lowest-down’ workers in society are what keeps things moving.
This may come as a shock to you, so ensure you’re seated before continuing… but if you want to buy something you have to go to a shop. If you want to go to a restaurant you need to deal with wait staff. If you want a greasy burger at 2am in the morning you need someone there to serve it to you.
You may be tempted to speak about robotics and automation and the like, but I would tell you that the kind of technology needed to replace these workers effectively is far off. The point is, the measuring stick is more of a measuring shtick. It’s this gag that society collectively repeats again and again but means nothing at all.
Some of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve met have worked in the aforementioned industries that many look down on. Some of the worst people I’ve met wear suits. Vice versa.
To be fair, there are some things we DO have to measure, but it is worth your while to stop sometimes and think… do I have to measure *this*?