Liking or disliking – is there a place where judgement is absent?

January 14, 2018

A utopia by Prof. Dr. Kathrin Köster and Helga Pattart-Drexler

Screenshot of "derStandard" article

A shortened version of this article was recently published in "der Standard".

Hanna’s mother is about to pick up her four year old daughter after nap time in pre-school. Before she even sees her child, she receives the daily report card of her daughter’s performance in the “We Rate your Kid” app: Hanna was unfortunately not a good eater today and she didn’t fall asleep at nap time. Also, because she’s lately been feeling blue, she wasn’t her usual self in the group and received a lower peer-rating from her pre-school friends. This was bad news for her parents. They will now have to pay higher pre-school fees because these amounts are directly related to their daugther’s behavior.

Dystopia or reality?

Today we rate basically just about everything. After visiting the restrooms at airports, we leave information about the sanitary conditions and the toilet-paper situation. When we order a customized burger at Mc Donald’s, we rate the service quality and the size of cucumber slices. Furthermore, most of us would not even think to order on Amazon or Zalando without reading the reviews first (especially the negative ones).

This is how constant ratings (which are mostly binary) have crept into our everyday life and have shaped our idea of what is “normal.” Is anyone still wondering what the side effects of such thought processes and behavior are? Is it beneficial to society? And what are the alternatives?

A utopia is needed

A world without the classification as “pass” or “fail”: how would it be if we made that the “system”? If we realized how intent our minds are on understanding things as ‘black or white,’ ‘yes or no,’ ‘good or bad’?

If we stopped using these labels (which are as common as the ‘Amen’ at the end of a prayer) and stopped limiting ourselves with this narrow range of options?

We need a new mindset

We all agree that openness, flexibility and respect towards others are important qualities. Yet when it comes to translating these virtues into action, that’s where we get stuck. Do we really appreciate the strangers across from us, with all their various facets? Are we actually receptive and supportive of them? Or are we simply affected by societal influences to such extremes that we can’t act differently?

Binary thought: like or dislike

Our society is permeated with categories, beliefs and prejudices. Yet getting past these limiting reflexes is exactly the point of our utopia.

In school, at university and in our jobs which follow, we are constantly confronted with ratings. Rating has almost become part of our DNA: there are grades, ranging from A through F which provide feedback on our performance, selection procedures (the so-called “knock-out tests” in life) as well as performance targets, which end up rating employee performance. The rating system’s methods focus on determining weaknesses, which completely leaves out something: our talents and everything which inspires us. How could this happen?

All of these learning systems revolve around the ideas of well-known philosophers and scientists like René Descartes, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. Their ideas are built on the notion of getting straight to the facts; there is no regard to individual talents and needs. The goal is therefore to split things into the smallest parts possible in order to get a better understanding. It is not about responding to individual skills and needs that are difficult to grasp - and thus to classify. The division of things which are “personal” and “factual” in nature leads to a method of learning which reminds us of industrial production factories.

Seeing people as human resources and trying to train them for one specific task. Teachers are “competent analysis-experts,” who provide the material defined by lesson plans, examination rules and other guidelines. This machine-like atmosphere of specialists is accompanied by the pressure of exams and performance expectations, in other words, evaluations.

Standard people leave these learning systems to make the most of what they have learned throughout life. In the spirit of an industrial system, learning focuses on the development of “human doings” or human resources that apply knowledge in a targeted manner. We do not see people as “human sources;” nor do we see them an inexhaustible sources of creativity and innovation.

The world is VUCA and so is learning

We all are in the middle of a gigantic transition, which has been called many things: “the shift in consciousness” or “the conceptual age.” Everyone knows the symptoms of this change: the world is VUCA. The things that are valid today are most likely different tomorrow. One societal crisis is followed by another political crisis and so on. The only thing constant is change which takes place at breathtaking speeds. This new era demands a new type of learning, which goes beyond traditional education’s rigid borders. The new direction is made up of more than just the interdisciplinary element and general education. More is required!

->  The path leads away from a knowledge-based education towards a wisdom-forming approach to education.

At the center of this approach is the individual as a whole, which is considered a unity of body, mind and soul; individuals are expected to develop in their entire complexity.

The goal is to enable people – in the spirit of “human sources” to recognize and use all of their available potential. People need to not focus only on the known things (which come in the form of knowledge); they should also be especially receptive to the unknown. This requires being truly open in your thoughts and actions.

The utopia is both the method and the solution

Entirely new approaches are therefore required, ones that follow this wisdom-forming approach. Learning needs lots of free space, a white box, where there are no borders and no ratings take place.

The framework of this learning space is the recognition of the needs of all living beings, including those of the environment, which convey the fundamental values of all global philosophies. A learning space which allows for everything we need so that we can continue to develop. A learning environment, which is not solely concentrated in dispersing knowledge. In doing so, we approach the constructivist view, a school of thought which doesn’t see learning as the recording, absorption and adoption of provided content. Instead, learning is understood as the strengths, talents and qualities of people placed in the spotlight; learning builds on individual experiences.

Utopia becomes reality – an experiment

Are we going to wait for the education system to be changed or can everyone begin to make changes at home? The powerful thing about education is that it is an individual process. Everyone can participate. It even counts to just decide to do it. Will we decide to stop categorizing things?

Can we ignore existing, generally accepted and socially-endorsed judgements that shape our normality? Do we acknowledge and affirm what each one of us brings with us? Do we shape an inspiring togetherness? Then utopia can become a reality.

Let there be room for curiosity. Everyone can start small and use a new approach; individuals can try out an innovative solution and – through trial and error - just see what happens. What happens if you start an experiment and stop categorizing things, stop “liking” or “disliking,” stop evaluating and labelling things and people today?  Reflect on your new experiences. Greet what is coming your way with open arms. That's how easy innovation is. This open process leads to self-awareness. It causes people to trust more, to dare to do more, and to discover new standpoints every day...

a hand with thumb up
We are confronted with ratings all our life.
A chalkboard wit "Think outside of the box" written on it
To focus on the unknown requires being truly open in your thoughts and actions.
a match with a green top sticks out of many other matches with red tops.
Decide for yourself to make the utopia to reality.
A kid with an iPad
Where does daily judgment lead us to?
Man with bionic arm is operating a hologram
Which possibilities open up, if we stop limit ourselves with categorization?

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