Merit as a Predictive Tool - a Bad One
How often have you noticed someone or something rewarded without merit? It’s true that the landscape of merit is a subjective display, but everyone knows that. I’ll point out a more interesting insight.
Our assumptions about “how things work” originate from an impressive mess of guidelines. Unfortunately we often interpret our understanding of “how things work” to mean “how things should work.” When an occurrence fails to fit with our assumptions we feel the world is broken, not our guidelines. This is a popular understanding in the motivational and self-help arena.
There’s a reason we care so strongly about how things work/how things should work. This is the interesting part. We care because the guidelines are our set of in-house prediction tools.
The sense of merit is simply a rule of thumb to help predict the future. It obviously isn’t a real property or agent of cause in our world, even if it’s treated like it is. It’s a feeling used to detect likely outcomes. And it’s so useless we’ve settled on applying it to the past.
If I own a pool and I’m hiring lifeguard Matt, who has five years experience, vs lifeguard Victoria, who has one year experience but a demonstrated willingness to work twice as hard for me, I’m using merit to predict which will yield the best result. Among other things. ;)
When you find that something like merit hardly lines up with outcomes, the best course is probably to admit it isn’t a useful tool of prediction and throw the concept out of mind.