Americans have long held themselves in high regard. We are, most all of us, God-fearing, freedom-loving, upbeat, energetic strivers, eager to take on challenges and confident about the future. Recently, however, there’s been reason to wonder about the accuracy of such a self-assessment. Police killings, bizarre conspiracy theories, Covid complacency, extremist activism, threats to democracy, the storming of the Capitol, widespread economic hardship, all raise questions about our fundamental character and the assumed goodness of our people.
Assessing populations as a whole probably makes little sense and would, in any event, yield imprecise generalizations of limited value. Far more interesting and achievable is the prospect of evaluating individuals and determining specific “life achievement” levels. Setting aside genetic inheritance, environmental circumstances broadly conceived and good or bad fortune, we could ask how fully realized is this or that person. We would consider a broad range of behaviors, a complete record of achievement together with an account of observable deficiencies. This is no simple task, for individuals are not inclined to full disclosure, seek rather to present themselves in selective and positive ways, concealing limitations, masking motivations, posing and deceiving. Numerous independent witnesses must be interviewed, evidence sought from a multitude of sources. We must bear in mind what is possible and desirable in each area of inquiry. We must pay attention to course corrections, to changes over time – for better or worse. We must not be swayed by notably admirable qualities and high levels of specific achievement that divert attention away from other less positive traits and behaviors. Before assigning grades (1-10), we must not permit the observable to be minimized by the perfect. Areas of consideration must also be tailored to the specific “life paths” of individuals, but, in general, the following represents the principal concerns of our investigators.
• Looks, appearance, dress, bearing.
• Emotionally appropriate, controlled, self-aware.
• Intelligence, common sense, curiosity, educational achievement.
• Broad-minded, tolerant, low levels of prejudice.
• Friendly, kind, supportive, concern for others.
• Real, up front, straight shooter.
• Honesty, integrity, reliability.
• Steady career advancement, skills enhancement.
• Charitable, generous, organizationally involved, community-oriented.
• Ongoing family ties, long-term partner or companion.
It is time now to take the complete measure of people you know. Score them from one to ten in all of the above categories. Be fair, compile evidence from your own observations and from others with direct knowledge. Don’t be surprised to uncover inconsistencies, for example, in a high-achieving individual who is also a complete phony, or in an impressively intelligent person who all too often flies off the handle. Low grades will not be uncommon. Admirable individuals will score 70 and above. Be cautious before announcing your grades.

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