Search This Blog

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Myth of Balance

  Why not begin with a bang? I have been thinking about this particular issue since one of my education/pedagogy classes from a local community college. I don't remember the content of the particular class but I do remember driving home thinking "wow, people actually do believe that now" I had heard the myth quite a few times before but had always thought of it as PC propaganda, I was shocked that night to realize that the purveyors of the propaganda seem to be actually drinking their own koolaid. I suspect that any of you who actually read this will either be shocked and appalled at what I have to say, or will be rather incredulous that anyone believes the myth and will think it rather foolish of me to argue against such a patently absurd proposition in the first place. Either way please let me know.
  The myth of balance is the idea that all people have a sort of "balance" or positive traits. The suggestion is that while some people have certain strengths, these strengths are "balanced" in them by corresponding weaknesses which may themselves be someone else's strength; ultimately resulting in a sort of strength/weakness egalitarianism in the human race. Thus one child may be exceptionally bright when it comes to mathematics but it is expected that she "makes up" for it by having poor social skills or being an athletic clutz. Some other student will be generally "well rounded" meaning that they don't exhibit any particular strengths or weaknesses. Finally there may be a student who seems to have nothing going for him whatsoever but it is expected that he is a particularly good hearted sort of person or that he lives in circumstances which his classmates would handle much more poorly .
  The myth is especially common among teachers but I hear it popping up all over the place. Most often I run into it in people who are either good heartedly trying to figure out how show or say that they value some other person whom they have just accused of having some tremendous deficit; "yeah he really can't keep his temper but boy is he good at math". Sometimes it shows up as an attempt at humility after someone receives a complement; "I'm glad you liked my poem but boy was I bad at math in high school". In both situations I think the person using the myth is trying to avoid the appearance of believing in a hierarchy of being. No one wants to come across as believing that any one person is better than any other person.
  This is a problem because some people clearly are better than other people. The exceptionally bright math student may actually be polite, well intentioned, a great athlete and working hard to improve her character. Mother Theresa may not have had any profound weaknesses, of course she may have but we are under no obligation to assume so. Furthermore if you spend five minutes I'm reasonably certain that you could come up with a list of people, past and present, whom you believe to be better than yourself. (If you can't then should I congratulate you on sainthood or set you free from the basement you must have been imprisoned in since birth?) The superiority and inferiority of the many members of this human race is patently obvious, to deny it would involve a strange attempt to find faults in Ghandi and virtues in Stalin.
  In fact, the myth is so weak that I can not find a single argument to set up in support of it. The only reason I can think of for believing the myth is one I have already alluded to, that people use it so as not to sound like elitists. We feel bad if we don't say it. And this, I will guess, is because we want so badly, and so rightly, to believe that everyone has value. The value of each individual is certainly an important belief and to the extent that the myth perpetuates it in our minds, the myth does some good, but not very much. In fact even here the myth does quite a bit of damage (lies are like that).
  Each individual does have infinite worth, and they have it as a result of being human. Not by any other means.The myth would lead us to believe that people have worth on the basis of their strengths, moral, academic, athletic, artistic or any other. It argues that we have to insist that any one persons strengths are matched in any other person in other areas. This is well intentioned but it begins with a lie. Ironically it is an incredibly elitist lie. It then trains its followers to try and fabricate strengths in other people in order to see those people as valuable. But if those people are valuable regardless and indeed are of infinite worth  regardless of their strengths then is it not demeaning and insulting to say to them "you are valuable because you are extremely artistic or spiritual or moral or discerning or intelligent"? Isn't that the same as telling them "you are only as valuable as your traits and if you lost all your abilities tomorrow you would loose all value in my eyes."
  So I would suggest that all people are beings of infinite worth but are as complexly superior and inferior to one another as could possibly be. We are beings of incredible variety becoming ever more and less like our perfect Father but each the treasured, beloved apple of His eye. Regardless of what we do, He loves us not because of what we can do but because of what and who we are.


  1. You know, I never really knew where this belief came from because I was actually taught it in a Christian aspect. Mainly, in the context of marriage. I was taught that I should marry someone who was strong where I was weak and who was weak where I was strong. At the time, it made sense to me because I was just a stupid teenager. Now, I just think it is one of the main reasons I have questions about my value as a person and I hate it.
    In my family life, I always felt inferior to my brother who excelled at so many things. I even sat there while someone tried to tell my father that I had a beautiful singing voice and he came back with, "You know who has a great singing voice, Beau (my brother)."
    But, where I felt really valuable to my parents is when I went off to Bible College and they said they were proud of me. I haven't felt inferior in their eyes since.
    Anyway, this myth has caused a lot of problems in my life and even now, I still feel less valuable than others because they can do so many more things than I. I think I feel inferior to almost all of my friends, but I know that they still love me and care about me. It's something I still have to deal with every day.
    Thank you for reminding me that I have value just because I'm human and for reminding me what a lie the myth of balance is! I know you were probably looking for more of an intelligent response, but you got my heart instead of my brain:)

  2. I completely agree. This is one of those problems when we are not moored in something higher than ourselves. These views are held by society because acheivement and recognition are the pinnacles of idolization of one another. We are of intrinsic worth because we are created by God and for God. Each life has value because of this reason. Purpose and meaning must be recognized for true value to be understood. When our meaning comes from attributes of finite things it makes our self-worth contigent on other people's perception of value. Like Rina stated above, her brother can sing well so he was admired but what happens if he gets a sore throat? Is he de-valued until he is able to sing again? If we view his worth as tied to his traits as Bill wrote, then he must be de-valued because he does not possess that gift anymore (at least for the present). We worship the source and in that worship we place the meaning of who and what we are. If is in ourselves we are subject to the changing tides of socio-cultural ideals, if it is in God then we find our purpose eternal and of infite value.

  3. I agree with what you say as well. Coming from an educational standpoint, so much of our society is pushing the idea that value/worth in each child so much that "bad marks", red pens and even punishments are looked down upon. The pendulum has swung towards "the positive" and I think it is to the detriment of our society and education! Our educational system is terrified to say someone doesn't have value based on their intelligence/abilities/talents that they can't say ANYTHING negative, ever. I wish they could lean towards a healthier understanding, but here's my question: How do we shift their thinking? Where can a public education system fall in this discussion if they are "separated" from the church? I agree wholeheartedly with your ideas, but really wonder if it can ever practically be expressed without disbanding public education completely.
    Just some thoughts to consider...

  4. OK I really like those questions Joy and I have been asking some of them myself for a while now. I think you are right in pointing out that we can't convince a secular school system with a theology of human nature. My first thought is that we will have to go about it by pointing out the inherent contradictions in their own behavior, that or the horrendous consequences their presuppositions must ultimately lead to. This ought to be relatively easily accomplished by having a lot of conversations which begin with "why do you think it's so important for Bobby to be good at something?" and move on from their to point out that they are still valuing achievements over individuals; so much so that they find themselves fabricating achievements.
    Unfortunately I have an incredibly low opinion of most public school administrations and as far as I can tell the only things they really respond to are studies that suggest a way to improve standardized testing scores, opportunities to increase the prestige of their school systems, and opportunities in increase cash flow to their school systems. As such I suspect that the only effective strategy would be a long term one which created an alternative school system based on truer presuppositions which also resulted in better test scores for it's students while costing less money per student. They do still respond to that sort of thing once a few politicians recognize it. Sorry to be so cynical but those are my thoughts. Do you have any suggestions?

  5. I just had to laugh when I read this because it is so true - we do tend to do this in both situations. And yet when held up to the slightest scrutiny, it seems utterly ridiculous.

  6. I remember the day I felt worthy/valued. It was in Turkey on Balibalba Sokak when the words of Isaiah 43:4 and I read the words "you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you," I don't believe I had ever felt precious or honored before that moment. But God spoke to my heart and mind that day.
    It is so true that we MUST find something good in everyone - and we totally miss the reality that that goodness is they are God's creation. Surely it is something to do or are. It is so simple that we miss it.

  7. I just found your blog and have decided to start at the beginning and read it through and through. It is a great privilege to continue to see you grow and mature. Thank you. I had no idea that you had a blog. And I found out recently that Ben writes. Our God is so good to let me continue a relationship with the 'kids' from Ankara.