Proxy questions, proxy qualities

Sometimes, we ask questions or look for certain qualities because of their implications, not because the actual questions or qualities in and of themselves matter that much. I call these proxy questions and proxy qualities.

Employers ask if potential candidates have a high school diploma or a BA degree (or more, depending on the situation). It’s not the paper that matters. It might not even be the content of the education that matters. It’s more what it all implies: ability to stick through difficult tasks to achieve future outcomes, ability to work with others, interest in learning, and so on.

In the same vein, we don’t marry people who are 50 years older or younger than us (or it seems weird if we do). It’s not the actual years that matter. It’s what those years imply: different goals in life, different types of friends, different social status, different thoughts or abilities to have or raise children, and so on.

We ask these proxy questions or search for these proxy qualities because they make it easier to find what we really want. The proxies serve as shortcut substitutes. They’re not perfect, just more efficient sometimes.

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