The pass/fail mentality

[20-09-2021 10:55 AM]

BY Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh

One of our most chronic problems is our obsession with generalisations, and avoidance of careful inspection of details which lead to sound conclusions.

The easiest thing in the world is to make judgments that are not detail-oriented and evidence-based.

Our society is steeped in sweeping generalisation and argumentation, and those who speak rationally and persuasively are few indeed.

What we often experience is a dominance of soliloquies, and an absence of dialogue.

In addition, individuals tend toward negativity in discourse and bitter criticism. And criticism is levelled against others, and not against the self.

We are faultless, and others are always at fault.

Sweeping generalisations encompass almost all aspects of our lives, and they come to us in all shapes and sizes.

One aspect where they are so dominant is judgment of performance, that of individuals and institutions alike.

Such judgment is based on the pass/fail binary, which used to be confined to specific contexts and is now taken out of context, becoming a dominant trend.

It is a binary opposition which jumps to conclusions without due process of analysis and argumentation, and which has become chronic.

And it is generally used to belittle achievement and to criticise and satirise.

The most dangerous thing about it, in addition to harming the individual or institution or idea concerned, is the fact that it is deceptive and inhibitive.

It is a reactionary mentality which, wittingly or not, pulls us back and cripples development and progress.

Examples of such negative phenomenon abound.

Take for example discourse about a new idea or project, say the Amman Bus Rapid Transit Project.

At the start of the project, many rebelled against it, launching a war of words, whose deadly weapons are rhetoric and emotions and tapping into people’s insecurities and fears.

As a result, the project was halted for years, having been labelled stupid, damaging and corrupt.

When the Amman Municipality affirmed it to be otherwise and started work on it, another war was launched against it, identifying the project as the cause of traffic congestion, the disfigurement of the city landscape, a headache, and a waste of funds.

And when part of it was completed and became operational, it underwent another attack campaign, stating that it is after all an “ordinary” bus, that it will not achieve the intended outcomes, and that it took so many years to bring to reality, forgetting that they are the ones who delayed its implementation.

The aim here is not to defend the project, for when it is completed and fully operational, we will be able to pass judgment on it, even thought all indications so far point to the fact that it is a much-needed project and a plus, serving a lot of people who wish to avoid congestion and arrive to their destinations on time.

The aim rather is to cite it as an example of the malady of this damaging pass/fail mentality which passes judgement, most of the time negatively and prematurely, on matters as soon as they are announced and before they are given the opportunity to materialise and function fully.

Truth is relative, and passing or failing is relative too, and not absolute, in most contexts. And before we pass judgment on anyone or anything, we have to study the facts carefully, weigh the evidence, and judge precisely and fairly.

The pass/fail mentality, which is so widespread in our society, is a pandemic that needs to be addressed before it sinks even further into the abyss of negativity and doubt.

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