The End Of Average

Todd Rose’s “The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness” is the most affirming book I have ever read in my history as a transperson.

More than that, it expands the understanding I have been holding for so long, the idea that thinking there is an average human or an average human experience is a fraud that oversimplifies and limits human potential.

Mr. Rose comes at the questions I have been working with from the viewpoint of an academician, starting with powerful stories of where the assumption of average failed us massively.

He then goes on to trace the lineage of scholarly thinking that averaging was a powerful tool that could solve any problem in understanding human behaviour and how the mistaken assumptions that underlie that thinking have caused problems, especially in offering understanding of any individuals behaviour.

There are ways to create dynamic rather than static understandings if we move past statistics and go to a model that analyzes before it aggregates, really understanding the variation between humans before trying to pull it out of some kind of averaging.  Offering anecdotes to illustrate this, Rose shows how simple observation can trump convoluted conceptual concepts.

Identifying the three big fallacies in “averagarian” thinking —  the idea that human attributes are consistent and smooth rather than jagged,  the notion that context can be ignored, and the assumption that there is only one normative pathway to success — Rose wants to find ways that individuals and corporations can harness the power of individuality rather than work to eliminate it.

“The End Of Average” is a book that approaches the need to understand, assist and celebrate people as individuals from a scholarly perspective.

In doing that, Rose has chosen language that won’t distract from his points, which will be very hard for people immersed in the assumptions that come with averagarian thinking to grasp and accept.   Over and over again, he shows how challenges to that model have been dismissed, usually because moving beyond it seems just “too hard” and why let go of “common sense?”

For me, as a transperson, the “Tyranny of The Average,” was never, ever hidden, as Rose suggests.   In my life, those averagarian assumptions have always been used to batter and oppress me.  The nail that sticks up gets pounded down and I bear the scars  of that experience.

From a very early age, I understood that valuing individuality over assumptions about group identity was the only way for me to claim my own power, freedom and grace in the world.

More than that, I understood that it wasn’t just important for me, it was important for everyone around me because treating them as individuals would empower them, offering them dignity and possibilities as the unique people they are.

I would simply ask “If I told you how someone’s sex was identified at birth, what reproductive biology they have, what else can you tell me about them?  Can you tell me who they love, what they do, who they are?   Can you even tell me how tall they are? Sure, we know that the average male is taller than the average female, but we all know men around 5″ tall and women over 6″.  Everyone is an individual.”

I came at the subject of moving beyond average under the rubric of queer, countering identity politics to celebrate the jagged beauty of each person.   I used the words exceptional and extraordinary, all loaded words that I needed to claim myself out from under the assumptions around the power of average that erased and oppressed me.

For me, sunlight came in the gap between normal and normative.  I knew that a huge range is normal for humans, but also knew that most people limited their understanding of normal to what was normative in their experience, trying to conform to a model for which there was no original, as Judith Butler saw gender.   I am not abnormal, I am just not normative, not meeting your expectations about what people should be to be good or perfect.

Rose has examples of where these assumptions failed badly and yet experts clung to the notion that variation from the norms was somehow pathological, places where individuals failed to live up to standards.   By examining the failure of experts, Rose celebrates the plain truth of different, diverse, and even weird humans; the truth I have so long struggled to put forth in the world.

So many people in the world are struggling to conform to averages that will never represent them, have no basis in human reality, and offer no real benefit other than the ease of appearing average inside of other people’s limited expectations.

Rose gives a smart tour though the pitfalls and prejudices that come with the assumption of average.   Using cogent arguments, good illustrations and language that the corporate world can engage he demolishes myths and sets out a clear case why even though average thinking has raised the average, moving to exceptional demands valuing the exceptional in every human.

Average results are limited and more than that, they are boring.

I knew from a very young age that I wasn’t average, but more than that, I knew that nobody around me was average either, no matter what the experts said.

In “The End Of Average,” Rose makes that truth visible, revealing the power in diversity.

Blowing up those assumptions that average explains everything by illuminating their failure is delightful to me, massively affirming of the truth which has always been in my heart.   I laugh and say “yes” to paragraph after paragraph, page after page in this book.

For those who want to cling to group identity and a quest to be average, “The End Of Average” will be a daunting slog.   For those of us who have had to claim our unique humanity just to stand in the world, though, it is a delight that can fill in our understanding and bolster what we have always been saying: The idea that average is useful in understanding individual humans is unfounded and tyrannical, so it needs to end.

“The End Of Average” will challenge your assumptions, offer you new ways of using your own uniqueness, and, if you are like me, feel like a bit of new wind under your odd, human and gorgeous wings.

Averagarianism forces our thinking into incredibly limiting patterns—patterns that we are largely unaware of, because the opinions we arrive at seem to be so self-evident and rational. We live in a world that encourages—no, demands—that we measure ourselves against a horde of averages and supplies us with no end of justification for doing so. We should compare our salary to the average salary to judge our professional success. We should compare our GPA to the average GPA to judge our academic success. We should compare our own age to the average age that people get married to judge whether we are marrying too late, or too early. But once you free yourself from averagarian thinking, what previously seemed impossible will start to become intuitive, and then obvious.

-- Todd Rose, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness"
When I consider the decisions I made that contributed to my college success, every one of them was rooted in the belief that a path to excellence was available to me, but I was the only one who would be able to figure out what that path looked like. And to do that, I knew that I needed to know who I was first.
...
When you hear my story, you might think I am a special case. But that is really the whole point of the principles of individuality: we are all special cases.
-- Todd Rose, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness"
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