Benchmarks – A Love/Hate Relationship

“A woman can’t be too rich or too thin.”

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor

Recently, OPreach stopped by for a visit to share words of wisdom. For any of you who follow her amazing blog, you will know she has a gift for inspiring reflection.  With one word, she gave me the topic of my next dialogue – benchmarks.

Over the years, I have developed a love/hate relationship with benchmarks.  I use them when I need them; I feel abused by them when they seem to go against me. One thing I am quite certain about – benchmarks rule our lives, from the cradle to grave.  An infant is measured against the height and weight standards, just as adults are placed in the recommended weight categories.  Individual math and literacy scores in grade school are comparable to the annual university ratings that determine the finest school to attend.  Cars, clothes, food and travel can not escape the benchmark trap.

To begin with, let us be very clear on the definition.  A quick Google search provides an abundance of explanations and origins.   According to Wikipedia, cobblers were the first to use the term. The cobbler would place a person’s foot on a bench and mark out a unique shoe pattern; hence, the term “bench” and “mark.”

Here is a condensed description of benchmark:

Noun:  A standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed.

Verb:  Evaluate or check (something) by comparison with a standard: “we are benchmarking our performance against external criteria.”

The inescapable truth, whether noun or verb, is that we are being measured, which makes us uncomfortable, even uneasy.  Our greatest fear – the one we want to ignore – is that we won’t be able to achieve the benchmark that has been set by the values of our social environment.  Are these fears real or simply an invention of our imaginations?  In the next dialogue series, I want to explore whether measurements systems can enhance our lives, give vision to our journey and increase our ability to participate.  I don’t have all the answers, but I know that I have questions.  Perhaps that is all we need to start…

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” 

 Albert Schweitzer