Why you should discriminate

There are two meanings to the word “discriminate”

  1. recognize a distinction; differentiate.

  2. make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, sex, age, religion etc

Unfortunately over the period of time most people have come to associate the word with the second definition. Of course, I don’t have statistical data on this claim so feel free to disagree with me here. This change in perceived literal meaning of the word is not as harmful to the world as the larger acquired fear among people to discriminate according to the first definition. Some people are hesitant to call spade a spade because they are afraid that “others” might view it as discrimination according to the second definition. Some more people abstain from discriminating even when touchy topics are not involved because they have started to think any kind of discrimination is a monstrous idea.

Why is it important to differentiate is highlighted in a hindi proverb:

सोने का मूल्य जौहरी ही जाने(Value of gold is known only to a jeweler)

If you don’t have the skill of a jeweler you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a piece of gold and a piece of any other glittering material. You may think all that looks like gold is equally valuable. The ability to tell the difference is important and it is a useful skill.

Similar thought is expressed by a Kannada saying

ಕತ್ತೆಗೆ ಏನು ಗೊತ್ತು ಕಸ್ತೂರಿ ಪರಿಮಳ(How does a donkey know the pleasant smell of a musk deer)

Musk deer also looks like a donkey but humans can smell the aroma and appreciate the perfume from a musk deer. But a donkey doesn’t care about the perfume. Probably it doesn’t even think musk deer smells good. Here, a donkey is a metaphor for people who can’t tell the difference between good smell and bad smell. In other words, this saying is used to shame people who can’t appreciate refined content from ordinary content. The content may be in music, literature, science etc.

Fundamentally, it is important and necessary to discriminate between a good work from a bad work or a great talent from an ordinary person or a better idea from a bad one. This discrimination helps us create better future because we shouldn’t treat bad content equal to good content. Without this discrimination one will treat Aryabhatta and me same in same manner. One will keep this blog next to the works of Kalidasa. It doesn’t make sense right? That is precisely because you can discriminate me and my work from the great people and their work. You have the ability to appreciate good work.

It doesn’t matter what is your definition of good and bad. As long as you have a personal yard stick. If your yardstick is wrong it won’t stand the test of time. But demonizing discrimination makes incentivizing great ideas, people and talent impossible. What is worse is that it forbids weeding out the bad ideas and works and also puts wrong people in positions of authority. A recent example which exemplifies the dangers of failing to discriminate is Brexit referendum. When you treat every voice in the society equal to that of an expert the results can be devastating.

Fact of the matter is there are some people, content and ideas which are better than others. We mayn’t have proper quantifying mechanisms but that doesn’t make everything/one same. Comment below some commonly heard phases which say “Every —— is same”.


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