I need to struggle through the following. Read on, if you wish. I am not sure if I have succeeded with my message. It is about the reality that we often face when we just are not good enough with a particular skill, and see that others are truly talented. What do we do? Do we give up? Persevere? Adjust?
One perspective of conservatives often expressed is that we accept the assumption and the consequences of people having unequal talents. Achieving equality is impossible, many note. Russell Kirk, a major voice in the modern conservative movement, stressed this point throughout his book, The Conservative Mind. He went so far as suggesting that the talented should rule and reap the benefits over the less than talented.
On the other hand, liberals, like Robert Reich, argue that a goal of public and social policy is to achieve some level of equality within the population, economically and politically. His book, Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few. is an example of this perspective.
I would say these two views form a paradox, and are the sources of tension between protecting total freedom and acknowledging that constraints might be necessary. Isaiah Berlin described two freedoms in his essay, Two Concepts of Liberty. There is positive freedom that asks, “what are we free to do,” vs. negative freedom that states, “one should not be interfered with.” The former suggests that we should not be constrained from pursuing, for example, an education. The latter says, “don’t stop me from smoking inside a building.” Each has its challenges. Each has its messy consequences for forming policy.
Should we let anyone be a doctor with no hurdles? Should we stop someone from smoking in a restaurant?
I ponder these questions as I coordinate my next treatments with Fox Chase. I must communicate with people far smarter than I am in the field of medicine. I must accept (trust) that they have my best interests at heart. I must conclude that my local doctor, whom I do trust, does not have the capability to perform at a level of competence that I now need.
At the same time, I know that I have some talent to interpret medical topics. I know enough to ask important questions (to a point). Basically, I am in the middle (or just somewhere in between). Not an expert, but also not totally ignorant of the field. I acknowledge this differential.
This gradation of talent can be found within any field and any economic pursuit. There are those who are talented, very talented. There are those who are less talented. We can find our best skills and that is important. Still, just as with entertainment and athletics, the best participants in an occupational field mostly demand and earn higher incomes than do those who possess less talent. Of course there is the issue as to why some fields pay more than other fields, even when the other fields have very, very talented people. That is a question of perceived economic value.
Should we find this acceptable? I think we are beginning to recognize that if the truly talented (even those who are talented in knowing how to wield power) attempt to usurp too much economic value out of those not as talented, then social disruption is likely.
However, on the other hand, does it require that someone not possessing talent recognize a responsibility to not make it a permanent condition? Education, experience, diligence, and resilience are vital so that one can move forward and not be exploited.
Taken together, progress is possible. The talented must not demonstrate absolute selfishness. Those who through no fault of their own experience tragedy or bad luck in life cannot be ignored. Those who did not have the advantages of natural skill or socially helpful conditions must not give up and keep working to improve, assisted by a benevolent and wise society. Civil society is threatened if public policy does not respond.
Balancing competing forces is the trickiest part to maintaining social order and collaboration.
We need the super-talented, but the super-talented cannot forget the rest of us. We must remember that talent is diverse. One must know not only that they might not be good enough to achieve a desired goal, but also the importance of refining goals as necessary to maximize ability. Talent is a continuous variable, not just an easy yes or no measure. It has been an important lesson for me, one first offered many years ago when a professor advised that reality sometimes just does not give us the tools to be best of the best, no matter how hard we try. I was taught to know when to revise my goals appropriately. I became responsible for my own diligence and patience. I just wish that I had worked on a couple of other critical skills that I ignored throughout the decades.
Maybe that is the lesson — knowing what we do not know.
To be continued, from time to time…