On April 21, 2022, I wrote a blog on the book entitled: The End of Average by Todd Rose. As I have lived with the concepts from this book and processed through my life, I have had several new thoughts. So, at the risk of repeating myself, let me take that original post and expand it some in this post.
This book is a must for every parent, educator, assessor, leader, and friend. Don’t pass go without reading this book. It describes the strategy I have had to learn and develop in my life the hard way. Todd is a statistician like me. Ironically, he dropped out of high school and struggled with learning until he figured out that he was unique! The premise of the book is that in every area of life (including the church), we are conditioned to compare ourselves with the average. We have glorified this concept of average to such an extent that we think something is wrong if we are below average in anything!
Averages are meaningless as far as describing reality is concerned. In the graduate statistics classes I taught at the University of Central Florida, I would illustrate this with my students by stating the average American has one breast and one testicle! But it is still difficult to find someone that matches that description. And that is true of averages. Most often, averages don’t describe reality. The point of the book, and something I believe with all my head and heart, is: NO ONE IS AVERAGE. To combat “averagism,” one must establish a concept of individuality. In other words, we are all unique individuals. And I believe created by God that way!
There are three conditions for individuality, according to Rose: 1) Jagged, 2) Context, and 3) Pathways. These three so clearly describe my perspective of assessments. I believe everyone is “Fearfully and Wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14). I have done thousands of assessments, and every one of these individuals was exceptional in some unique way.
Basically, Jagged means that one cannot adequately describe a variable such as intelligence, talent, character, or most things of significance in life by a single number. I understand we try to do this in all of life, but when we do, we violate so much of the uniqueness of the individual and lose much accuracy. Just because you finish a test quicker than another, does that really mean you are more intelligent? No. Jigsaw means we are fast at some things and slow at other things. Most things in life are jagged by their nature.
Context means we are all different in different contexts. In some contexts, I act one way, and in other contexts, I act differently. This is true for most of us. Not only are most concepts jagged, but most contexts cause us to respond according to what is happening around us. For instance, I am normally not a detailed person, but I can become compulsively fixated on details when I am in the midst of elaborate statistical operations. Context is very important!
Pathways mean we all learn through pathways that will be unique to our jaggedness and consistent with our context. This doesn’t imply that there are as many pathways as there are people. But usually, there are multiple ways people learn, process information, grow and/or change.
Even babies now are known to learn to crawl much differently from each other. Just 15 years ago, babies were compared to averages or a standard milestone of developmental crawling. If a baby didn’t meet a certain milestone by a certain age or if they did it in a completely different method, the parents were often told something could be wrong with the child. We have learned so much in just 15 years! There are at least 25 different ways children learn to crawl, and some never crawl at all, they learn to walk without crawling, and there are no related problems.
So how do followers of Christ grow? I think we must keep the Jagged, Context, and Pathways criteria in mind as “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect* in Christ.” (Colossians 1.28).
Think of how often we try to help individuals grow by totally ignoring these three principles. We ignore jaggedness when we measure someone’s spiritual growth or maturity by a number or a milestone. If they have not progressed adequately, we make a judgment about their lack of motivation, passion, godliness, etc. Two years after beginning my new life in Christ at the University of Michigan, I graduated and took a job in the marketplace instead of going on staff with Cru as I was “challenged” to do by my mentors. I distinctly remember being told that my perspective was a lack of maturity because I wanted to go out and make money rather than raise money from others to support myself. Sorry, Daryl, I didn’t do it your preferred way.
We also plot a linear path which we expect everyone to follow in order to grow spiritually. First, we complete Book #1, then Book #2, then Book #3, and so on. There is often only one path that we think everyone must follow. As an Engineering student at Michigan, the guy (Bob) in whose group I was initially placed, wisely chose the first book we studied as new Christians as Genesis in Space and Time by Francis Schaeffer. He knew my questions were on a different plane than many other students. This book changed my life by allowing me to think and grow in my faith according to a path unique to my context. I know Bob took lots of pressure for deviating from the ‘curriculum,’ but I am eternally grateful. Thanks, Bob.
I have been so privileged in my spiritual pilgrimage thus far to have had mentors who guided me and understood the context in which I needed to be pointed. This is so critical today as various expressions of the body of Christ (the Church) become manifested. For example, some people got upset when their church did or didn’t meet on Christmas because it fell on Sunday. So what? Remember the context! Had I been expected to show up on Sunday morning in college instead of Thursday night (it was called the TNT, for Thursday Night Thing), I doubt I would be where I am in my faith today. I would have rejected what I felt were forms over function. Context for me was critical for my developed faith. Thanks, Chuck, Paul, and Al.
My prayer is that we would all keep jaggedness, context, and pathways in mind as we guide others in their faith.
2 Replies to “The End of Average”
The engineer/scientist’s path through faith is not an easy one, constantly attempting to reconcile between what one believes (faith) and what one sees (empirical evidence and experiences.)
The Bible teaches, “Behold, I am making all things new.”(Rev. 21:6)
Note the verb tense.
My friends more literate in the Greek of that age tell me that the verb implies a one-time change or transformation that is ongoing (yeah, I’m still working on understanding that one.)
Change can and does happen in fits and starts and does not necessarily follow a smooth curve or path. I look at my own walk of faith and see fits and starts, highs and lows, dips and peaks. Nonetheless, I persevere.
PS – I stole your line re: “average” physical characteristics some time ago, and have used it when I present. I’ve since forgotten when I saw it for the first time, but it does tend to sufficiently shock to open up the audience’s thinking.
Thanks Tom. Yes I am continuing to be made new. That was my fear in writing a blog, I am constantly revising my thinking and afraid I would feel the need to codify. Still learning.