“I call shotgun!”

This famous saying is the proud exclamation of a winner, the first person to claim the passenger seat as his territory for the next car ride. Most people don’t think much of this game though. It won’t make or break your day; however, it’s the little victories that get us through the day, so those people who call shotgun as if their lives depend on it are winning life for sure. However, for the losers of this game, those who aren’t fast enough on their feet or quick-tongued enough or smart enough to recall this pointless game exists, have you ever pondered why this game exists? Because perhaps this game reveals a part of humanity we don’t discuss enough?

The social hierarchy of the passenger seat seems to have been implanted into the minds of all people. For those with older siblings, you remember those times when mom or dad drove and your older siblings got the passenger seat, or if you’re the older sibling, then think of the number of times that your younger sibling has been cast to the backseat because of their inferior age. Moreover, for those who are taller or heavier than their older siblings, how often do you not earn the passenger seat despite this fact?

Now, let’s take it one step further. If you consider yourself taller and/or heavier than your friends, do you find yourself being yielded to when it comes to receiving the passenger seat? For those who are the opposite, small and/or skinny, do you find yourself yielding the passenger seat to those bigger than yourself? Obviously, this is the practical seating assignment because of leg length and is often the rebuttal of any “Shotgun” loser. Lastly, have you ever been in a situation where no one calls shotgun, and the younger person (mostly distinguished by grade level), despite their weighing and measuring at a taller height than the passenger, unconsciously gets in the back?

For those who answer ‘yes,’ you have probably noticed that there is a lapse in judgment, an impracticality to the social hierarchy of the passenger seat. After all, the passenger seat is for the bigger person, and hypothetically, a more dominant person. Keyword, hypothetical.

Hypothetically, the older person is stronger and smarter and dominant person, a generalization that may be why humans inherently allow the social hierarchy of the passenger seat to be ruled by age instead of by logic. After all, this hierarchy is clearly defined when we are children and when the gaps in physical and mental capabilities are blatantly obvious from year to year, creating this stereotype of age equaling dominance.

But how far does this admiration and veneration of age and experience go beyond the passenger seat?

Student Admissions (Legacy vs Quality):

The idea that someone is accepted to a school or extracurricular based on their parents’ or siblings’ successes seems infuriating to anyone who doesn’t benefit from this system. This way of admittance raises the analogy of the poor man getting poorer and the rich man getting richer as well. After all, colleges should care about the quality of their students, not the feelings of parents and their supposedly, undeserving children.

However, is this too harsh a criticism of schools’ admission offices?

After all, according to an essay written by Nathan Martin and Kenneth Spenner in the Research in Higher Education journal titled, Capital Conversion and Accumulation: A Social Portrait of Legacies at an Elite University, roughly a quarter of the American population believes that legacy students deserve priority consideration. In turn, there is a subset of the population, albeit a sizable minority, that potentially believes that their children deserve special consideration because of familial ties. Once again though, it brings up the question of what do these legacy students offer that others don’t.

For one, as Martin and Spencer point out, “legacies are likely to arrive on campus with a greater appreciation for [the] traditions and institutional loyalty.” In a lot of ways, it’s similar to your favorite sports teams or your religion of choice. Oftentimes, we find ourselves loyal, to a certain degree, to what we are most exposed to. For example, kids who may have grown up in Dallas their entire lives might be a Patriots fan simply because their parents were from Boston and so they grow up knowing the Patriots instead of the Cowboys. Similarly, most children find themselves maintaining the same theological beliefs and values of their parents since that is what they know. In turn, legacy students provide a chain of tradition and interest that others might not because legacies were possibly raised knowing and appreciating that college’s history.

Moreover, there is one factor that turns this into a touchy debate, money. According to multiple studies, legacy students and their parents are much more likely to make larger monetary donations than others, so these private institutions are able to continue the chain of sizable donations by simply admitting these donors’ kids. Furthermore, as these affluent universities’ endowments begin to grow larger and larger, they begin to rely on the massive donations, causing them to not only accept more wealthy, legacy students but also target wealthier families during their admission campaigns, preferring financial status over academic success. Plus, as Martin and Spencer’s research suggests, these legacy students are more likely to come from primarily wealthy, white, Protestant families anyways. It is at this point that the issue seems to tip into a completely different subject, college philanthropy and the merit of donating large sums of money to universities, in the name of higher education, that already has large sums of money.

These statements, however, are only valid if the legacy students, on average, perform worse than their peers, and as the studies show, legacy students, applying to college average an SAT score 40 points lower than students with nonaffiliated parents with advanced degrees and 10 points lower than students with nonaffiliated parents with college degrees, only beating out the students with nonaffiliated parents with no college degree. GPA follows a similar trend as an advanced degree and college degree parents’ children have an expected GPA of 3.57 and 3.53 respectively their freshman year of college while legacy students have an expected GPA of 3.46. Furthermore, legacy students, all together, have “the lowest levels of pre-college academic skills and ability” when compared to the other three types of students listed above.

On the other hand, it is important to mention that by the time they graduate from college, legacies actually best their peers with parents that have college degrees in terms of GPA. This statistic reveals that legacies appear to thrive in the universities they attend, but all categories of students appeared to have a positive trend in their academic success from their freshman years to their senior years, legacies only matching the same success of their peers instead of exceeding it by any significant margin. Also, this stat doesn’t excuse the fact that admissions offices will deliberately skip over more qualified students, hoping for a future sum of money to arrive at their doorstep.

At the same time, it’s important to ask if this is a trend that only occurs in higher education. As most Jesuit Dallas students are probably aware, a sizable portion, cited at around 30%, a number that will supposedly be rising in future years, of its student population is made of legacy students, and as Tim Host, Director of Admission, was quoted saying in a 2018 interview with the Roundup, “legacy status plays a role.” Also, when commenting on the potential boosts these students get, he said, “there are a handful of students who do benefit from legacy status,” a handful that might be taking a spot from a more deserving student. In turn, while we don’t know if these students were admitted because their parents are wealthy benefactors or to keep the tradition of Jesuit alive in future generations or just to keep irate alumni from emailing the admissions office, it goes to show that even within our own school there is a degree of preference for one’s family ties over the quality of their character.

Workplaces (Longevity vs Performance):

When it comes to the service sector of the economy, where interaction between customer and employee is an essential part of the business, loyalty is seen as a reflection of its proper, business practices. While in certain industries workers may not be able to express their distrust in the company they work for due to pressures to keep their job, employees in the service sector are able to both directly and discreetly express their displeasure with management through interactions with customers because their attitudes have a direct impact on sales. After all, customers, when faced with poor service, will often avoid businesses despite the quality of the product, and according to a paper from the Romanian Economic and Business Review titled Investigating the Impact of Commitment, Satisfaction, and Loyalty of Employees on Providing High-Quality Service to Customers, “employees who have no loyalty towards their organization will have no commitment to customers… therefore providing services [that] does not satisfy the customers.” In turn, when businesses in the service sector are evaluating sales or trying to make improvements, their employees act as useful tools because their longevity with a company is often seen as a sign of respect.

However, there is a view that longevity isn’t the most important facet in evaluating one’s worth to a company. As a Personnel Review article, titled Loyal employees in difficult settings: The compounding effects of inter-professional dysfunction and employee loyalty on job tension, states, “employee loyalty is generally viewed as an unambiguously positive attribute at the individual and collective level.” Thus, loyalty and job longevity, in the eyes of businesses, is simply a sign of commitment, worth a pat on the back; however, in the eyes of the individual, longevity seems like leverage. By staying with a company for a long period of time, an employee might ask for a raise on the grounds of their loyalty, but this is oftentimes given as a longevity increase.

The purpose of this bonus, however, is not entirely rooted in appreciating one’s work and dedication, especially in sectors where the employee is easily replaceable by the company. As a result, longevity increases in education is often done out of appreciation because well-respected teachers are harder to find since it takes time to build up a reputation as an efficient educator. In other companies though, it is more often used as an incentive to perform better or as a way to keep around experience. In the end, the longevity increase appears to be a method of retaining high performance and preventing constant turnover from unsatisfied employees.

After all, as a piece in The Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing called Managerial Trust and NPD Team Performance: Team Commitment and Longevity as Mediators states, “employee change impacts group and organizational learning negatively, because employees usually take their knowledge with them.” As a result, it appears that both longevity and performance appear to be equally valuable since they both correlate to each other. Especially in team settings, conformity is necessary, and as the article states, “changing team members can slow a project down, cause information or knowledge loss, disrupt progress, and impede success.” Thus, longevity allows for perspectives that are experienced and tested to provide valid ideas.

Also, in stressful environments, job longevity provides a voice of reason that relieves job tension and increases satisfaction for all parties involved. In the Personnel Review article, namely in healthcare and hospitals, it states that it is necessary for there to be employee loyalty since it “can serve as mediators or moderators of the negative impacts of job tension on performance indicators.” Knowledge and experience buffers the harmful effects their demanding conditions have on them, and it is because of this wisdom that interprofessional collaboration (IPC), a measurement of healthcare professionals’ ability to work well together, increases amongst loyal employees.

When finding out whether longevity is valued over performance, it matters from what point of view. Businesses want profits above all else, so longevity is simply a tool they might use to keep around high-performing employees. In the eyes of the employee, longevity is more important because it is a sign of one’s respect for a company and a sign of one’s increased knowledge and specialization. However, the truth is that longevity results in increases in performance because of the effect it has on group creativity and the financial motivators that businesses can warp it into.

Social Life (Age vs Skill):

Most of what is limited to humans seems to be based on age, a number, rounded down, that corresponds to the number of times the Earth rotates the sun while a person is alive, but the prospect of age is a bit psychologically biased. As some would argue, humans, develop discontinuously, meaning that they go through different stages of development, drastically shifting the focus of a human’s development as they go from stage to stage, closer to what society sees as age. Someone arguing for a continuous development would see life as a gradual accumulation of physical and mental knowledge. In turn, it would make sense that if we developed gradually that the older you are then the more physically and mentally dominant you are.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case. As noted in the passenger seat example, there will always be people taller or stronger that is cast to the back because they don’t meet the age requirement of their peers. Even amongst peers of the same grade level, this fact is often used as leverage. For example, when it comes to twins, it seems as if the ultimate trump card, the defining piece of evidence in any petty argument, is that one was born two minutes before the other.

In a sense, age is like a badge of honor that people wear, especially in our developmental years, labeling them as superior, a flex on all those younger and less important. As we grow up, there are certain privileges given to us that correspond with the exact amount of time it takes spheres to circumvent each other, namely the driver’s license, obtainable at sixteen orbits. Also, age seems to correspond to specific events in the average human’s life like how if one has lived for at least fourteen years than they have most likely begun high school. Thus, it represents benchmarks both socially and physically, and during this journey, people are able to pass those obstacles of development, turn around, and laugh at those struggling, reminiscing in the struggles they once went through. In a sense, growing up is very much a sign of arrogance as people achieve and then look condescendingly upon those below.

None of this is more self-evident than in a high school where biological and social changes associated with age dominate the four, grade factions. Freshman look at middle schoolers as plebeians who haven’t made it to high school. Sophomores look at freshman as arrogant and undeserving. Juniors look at sophomores and laugh at the lack of stress. Seniors look at everyone younger than them and say, “Losers! You all still have at least a year of this left.” On the other hand, when we look up the social ladder, we always seem to demand respect. We look up to those older than us and ask for our due, for reaching the benchmark we have achieved. Instead, we are met by the same condescending laugh and wave of the hand that we so often use on others below us.

At the same time though, it is ironic that being exceptionally young is revered by many in certain instances. For example, as seniors, most people will turn eighteen throughout the school year; however, there are a few who will graduate as seventeen-year-olds, and whenever this select group of people promulgates their date of birth, it becomes a screaming match of birthdays as classmates begin to bicker about how they are better because one was born on July 19 and the other was only born on July 15. In the end, this group is somewhat respected above the others, not because of any unnatural feat but because an event, independent of all other events, occurred later than expected.

However, when it comes to cross-age-socialization, there is a different kind of respect given. Found mostly in extracurriculars where the different grade levels are more likely to interact, there seems to be an extra emphasis on respecting the younger athletes’ accomplishments. The most respect is sometimes given not to the best athlete but the most outperforming youngster. When a freshman or sophomore finds themselves on a varsity squad, mutual respect is seemingly given because of their age first and foremost instead of any hidden work ethic or talent.

“That guy’s good,” is almost always followed up with, “How old is he?” or “What grade is he in?” In a sense, the idea of the prodigy ruins it for everyone because an older person’s individual accomplishments are shadowed by youthful talent. Hence, skill wins out, right? We respect those who are more dominant, yielding to their talent or prowess, but this isn’t always the case.

Despite the arrogance built into overcoming the benchmarks of life, there is merit to these accomplishments. After all, it takes a level of wisdom to pass these barriers in the first place, and as we overcome, we expect everyone else to have as well. In turn, when we look back at the people struggling, we realize there is a level of physical or mental knowledge that we have obtained which puts us above them in our quest for self-actualization. Society recognizes this; thus, it invented age, a ubiquitous marker of our obtained wisdom. As a result, a freshman, no matter how physically gifted, won’t be captain of a sports team because there are intrinsic values and wisdom assigned to the specific number of times Earth has rotated around a spherical ball of fire in one’s lifetime.

So Is Experience THAT Important:

The simple answer is yes.

Humans will always value experience and the wisdom that it brings. Even the most naturally-gifted people need to practice and hone their craft before they can be truly successful. We will yield the passenger seat to the older person, not because of any practical, physical reason, but because deep down, we have mutual respect for their added knowledge, even if in reality they aren’t much wiser.

Thus, legacy students will always be given special considerations, not because they are better, but because they oftentimes represent something bigger than the quality of the application; loyal employees will always be given special benefits, not because they are necessarily more productive workers, but because they represent commitment and integrity; and older people will always be yielded to, not because they are superior, but because the extra time they have spent on Earth represents time spent reaching the pinnacle of human existence.

It doesn’t have to be practical, but it definitely has to be complex. We’re human after all. It’s just what we do.