By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
It occurred to me the other day that I have a peculiar reason to appreciate “retirement.” It has nothing to do with sleeping in a bit or taking an occasional nap. It’s completely unrelated to dressing more casually or having a nice cup of tea whenever the mood strikes. What I was truly enjoying was the notion I had been freed from the onerous task of evaluating other people. But no! Last week I had a Salvation Army pick up and the driver handed me an evaluation form. I was supposed to rate the Salvation Army on promptness, friendliness, and efficiency — among other traits. The Salvation Army! I think we’re going overboard here. I just wanted to donate some clothes.
No doubt anyone in healthcare, law, education, or business knows whereof I speak. In fact, in recent decades this practice has reached ridiculous proportions. Faculty evaluate residents who evaluate students who evaluate faculty. Administrators evaluate managers who evaluate trainees who evaluate the whole system. Every individual who speaks at a conference, seminar, or lecture is evaluated on everything from the tone of his (or her) voice to the title of his talk. Filing cabinets and computer databases across America are bursting at their metal and electronic seams with evaluations.
The real question is: Why do we need to judge one another? I realize that some form of grading system is necessary through college and various training programs. But over the past two decades we’ve gone far beyond grades. We might have developed a national preoccupation with criticizing one another. I genuinely enjoy giving people good evaluations. But there are times when a negative evaluation is in order and, frankly, I’d just as soon undergo a root canal. Every one of us has bad days, bad weeks, and sometimes even bad years. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be a bit more understanding?
The process of evaluation can be helpful when it’s geared toward encouragement, guidance, and improvement. But when it reflects a harsh, critical spirit, nothing helpful happens. Fighting the tide is not easy. But I’d like to think that there’s hope. A very wise man once said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
I gave the Salvation Army people an “A.”