Above Average?

As a friend of mine likes to point out, there’s a paradox baked into encouraging people to level up: if the normal distribution holds — and there’s every reason to believe that it does — how can we go around asking people to level up?

I think it depends on what we mean by leveling up. The average is the average, and most of us are closer to it than we’d like to think. (Famously, most of us consider ourselves above-average.)

But that’s not the end of the story: to say “the average is the average” is to rule out any meaningful role for either free will or evolution, and I’m not willing to give up on those so easily.

In terms of free will, everyone has the choice to improve. Of course everyone’s individual choices are constrained by circumstance, but as long as you’re not in the gulag, you’ve got enough freedom to improve in some way. (Even if you are in the gulag, as people like Frankl and Solzhenitsyn showed, you can choose to preserve a degree of interior freedom.)

And the even better news is that a lot of individual choices will raise the societal average. Just look at today’s professional athletes versus those of a few decades ago for an extreme example: the average has gone way up.

Choice isn’t easy. Plenty of people don’t want to make a decision, take responsibility, or put themselves on the hook. But it is possible, and I don’t think we have to suspend the laws of nature to make things better.

In fact, if we’re listening to nature, it might be the only rational choice we’ve got.