A Padma Shri or Padma Bhushan award is given for high accomplishment. It was desirable to win it, because it symbolized the achievement. But then, people wanted to get one – just so they could boast about winning it… and started looking for a way.
A medical college holds periodic assessment tests. That’s because they want students to study a topic. But then, undergrads began viewing tests only from the point of scoring more marks on it… and prepared accordingly.
A billionaire entrepreneur accumulates a fortune through innovation, hard work and astutely grasping a market opportunity. But then, others focused on the money alone… and tried to exploit the system to make a lot of it.
Entry into a postgraduate medical program is based on performance on an exam that assesses how well a candidate has learned the lessons of patient care at a basic level. But then, getting a high enough rank to qualify for a seat became the sole purpose of taking it.
An award is a symbol. A test is a symbol. So is money. Or a seat in graduate college.
A symbol stands for something else.
It’s a kind of surrogate – that represents a deeper, more important, more meaningful thing.
By viewing a symbol in isolation, disconnected from whatever it represents, we trivialize it. Take away most of its value.
Symbols stop being symbolic.
They become hollow.