Monday, October 17, 2011

Perspective: Substantial vs. Superficial - Dentists and Deer

A failure in the dimension of Perspective is the superiority of the superficial over the substantial when choosing criteria for decision-making.  Simply put, we tend to value appearance over function when we decide how to act, how to vote, what to value and how to spend our money.  We substitute values based on appearance and popularity for our stated values of family, faith, charity, etc.  Evidence is everywhere.

A few days ago I caught the local news on TV and saw an advertisement for a dentist.  The emphasis was not on your teeth, but on your smile.  I’ve noticed this trend other places and even at recent trips to my own dentist.  More are promoting teeth whitening and straightening.  Not long ago dentists were mostly concerned about flossing, gum disease, and cleaning and filling teeth – substantial stuff.  I’m sure these items are still very important to them, but now they have discovered that to attract customers takes a superficial appeal, how bright and attractive your smile is.

Later in the same broadcast the news anchor reported on a deer jumping through a glass window.  She commented that fortunately no people were injured, but the deer had to be put down – “poor deer.”  Now if it had been a rat or a skunk, I’m sure I wouldn’t have heard “poor rat.”  Deer in populated areas are pests, causing more damage and potential disease than rats, but deer are cute.  People will protest the killing of deer (but not rats).  It’s a double standard based on appearance.

How does this carry over?  We often get the more attractive or charming, rather than the more competent candidates for office.  Attractive people tend to get lighter legal sentences, faster promotions and are hired more readily.  With indirect encouragement from the news media, we put as much stock in the opinions of movie stars and singers as those of known experts.  We are underwater on our houses but continue to buy more toys or products to impress our friends.  We trade a car that is not yet paid off for a newer model and go further into debt.  We forget to value people and things for what they are and judge instead based on whether they are cool or in.  As I say, examples are everywhere, some trivial and some important, but they all represent failures in the same dimension of behavior, Perspective.

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