Why The Numbers Never Add Up

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

I’d like to begin by giving a blanket apology to all those mathematicians, algebraic nerds and geometry wizards who love numbers and work in them each and everyday.  I value your stamina, appreciate your hard work and most of all honor your abilities.

With that being said, I would like to admit that I have never liked numbers very much.  As a kid I would argue with my mom, convinced that the back of the math book was wrong when I would check my answers.  As a teenager I was fascinated by how contagious yawning was in my algebra class, bored out of my mind by the concept that y=mx+b.  I have been baffled by my children who can do mental math in their heads while I am still busy doing “cute math” on the blackboard in our kitchen.  I rely heavily on my calculator, never trusting my own mind to do simple conversions.

I have, however, found that there are particular numbers that the majority of people do not like as well.  I am not referring to prime numbers or complex calculations, but rather numbers that represent so much to our society.  We rely heavily on what specific numbers mean…  defining who we are, what we are doing and how much we are worth.

These numbers are:  Age, Weight and Bank Account.  The numbers most people go to extraordinary lengths to avoid.

No one ever wants to disclose their age.  The gift card industry has built an entire line of products based on the joke that we should avoid speaking these numbers out loud.   And what does this type of thinking do?  It perpetuates the idea that we should be ashamed to grow older, as if it’s a bad thing.

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

I challenge you to consider the alternative.  Each year that we live is an accomplishment in stamina, fortitude, and drive.  The world takes every chance it can to knock you down, and if you’re still standing a year later, congratulations to YOU!

What we eat, how many calories we consume, how many carbs we ingest, how tight our jeans are after a big meal and the almighty number representing our weight is a struggle encountered by so many of us.  The math in getting thin, being thin and staying thin can drive anyone to reassess their desire to go on!  Especially at this time of year when we are bombarded by holiday parties, pot-luck meals, cakes, cookies and pies.  We put so much pressure on ourselves to fit into a specific size, dictated by a number emerging from a small metal box on the floor.  Essentially we have given our power to the bathroom GOD I would like to refer to as the scale.

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

And what does weight really mean about us?  In our society it represents the idea of fat and lazy.  It does not account for the hours one may put into exercising only to find themselves weighing the same after or the shear willpower to resist temptation.  This number can ruin a day, starting at the beginning when we define what we will eat, how much we will deny ourselves and how much self loathing we will indulge in until we are back in bed that night.

And finally our bank accounts.  I nod my head as I type these words because I am keenly aware of how little I have in mine.  When my daughter admits to her friend that she only has $3, she does it in embarrassment, not pride.  We are taught not to disclose how much we make, how much we spend and how much we have.  The concept of our worth and value is determined by a number reflected on a pay stub, checking account ledger or bank statement.

Yet all of us, at one time or another, have received the “courtesy post card” from our bank.  We know the moment we retrieve that pesky piece of paper out of the mail box at the end of a long day.  We know it is not a greeting card or birthday wish from our banking institution, but rather a reminder that we are out of money.  The number that draws our eye is usually the one in red indicating a negative balance.  

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

And, aren’t you lucky if your bank was kind enough to have allowed your recent purchase of a “YOUR HOW OLD???” birthday card and new diet book from Walmart or Target, only to charge you a courtesy fee of $35 because you over-drafted.   Now the number you are processing is the sum of your worth minus your spending and  lack of self control which usually equals humiliation and shame.

If you don’t have this problem, well,  good for you… and can I be your friend.  However what does the number value attached to earnings, income and available funds mean to you as you judge others?  Do you think someone with less is less?  Do you label them losers, underachievers, over-spenders?  We see many make shrewd discriminations based on this number.

And in the end, they are all just numbers.  They represent so much in our society regarding our worthiness, our value, our efforts and capabilities, yet they do not reflect who we are.  These numbers never add up to define a person as a whole.  They segment parts of our lives, some parts we don’t even have control over, and then create a deep crevasse between those segments, opening up opportunities for shame, judgment and resentment.

The numbers we should be tracking, if only for ourselves, are our blessings.  When we count the blessings we find in others, the blessings we bring to others and the fortunate opportunities we have to make a difference in someones life, the sum is too great to count.

So, in closing as a sociologist and psychologist by nature (not a mathematician), I find that the arithmetic process in assessing accumulation is found in the human heart and human spirit… not in the numbers themselves.

 

 

Leave a comment