I Still Don’t Like Math.

Each day I think of a lesson learned that day and share it with you, on this blog.

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Math is probably one of the most important things we should take time to master. By understanding the concept of numbers and how they can interact, we unravel the fundamental mechanics of the universe. In fact, math is key to communicating with other intelligent species. Understanding the concepts of Zero and One allow everything known to be built. Yet many of us struggle with anything beyond basic arithmetic. Worse, we fail to recognize why math is so important to… everything.

I have, for as long as I can remember, struggled with math. Not basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (though I could be better at those, too), but rather the higher learning stuff. When letters and numbers start mixing together, for me it is like trying to figure out the gibberish sounds of a foreign language.

In fact, that is a nearly perfect analogy. Math is its own language but I think the problem I have had for so long is in thinking it is a separate language from grammar (where I excel). Math is the foundation of all language so if I know American English very well but am poor at math, then I only understand and excel at half of American English. All words and numbers are concepts springing forth from the same foundation (which is Math).

I still don’t like math but I recognize now that I can’t really love language without finding a way to love the part of language that encompasses numbers.

I am going to improve my math skills but it’s not going to be easy. I mean, it’s going to be easier than figuring out how fast a train leaving Chicago must be going to meet a train leaving New York at 3:15 on Tuesday cheesecake glarble molf renit… but (sigh…) I still don’t like math.

 

 

 

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Am I Angry At You?

Words are powerful. It is fun to take a close look at how we use them.

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I find it interesting that we say things like, “I am angry at you!” AT you? We feel angry at a person or towards something. We are in love with somebody.

Our relationship to emotions is curious. We expel them from our bodies as if they are projectiles that we can throw at other people like baseballs. I am mad at you! The thing is, we let emotions live in our language in such a way that we are absolved of our responsibility for feeling them. We never say, “I am Anger now!”. Yet, curiously, we do say, “I am happy.” Perhaps we find it easier to accept we are present and in sync with a positive feeling but negative emotions happen to us.

Either way, think about how you use language to convey both the feelings you expel to others and accept from them, and listen to the language you use when defining your own emotions.

 

Today’s lesson: It is okay to feel emotions. Do not let yourself off the hook, however, for feeling them. Be conscious of the words you use to share your feelings. The onus is on you to take responsibility for who you are, not on others to accept you for who you feel like being.

 

 

 

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When Is “More” Enough?

If I could rid the English language of a single concept, it would probably be to do away with the idea of “More.”

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I sat in my driveway listening to a story about immigrant slave workers picking tomatoes for Taco Bell and other big box restaurants. That was 2005. Now, at the end of 2014, they still live in the worst conditions I can imagine in the United States.

Up to 12 workers are packed into trailers as small as 10 square feet–essentially, a room with moldy walls and a single toilet. They work in fields 12 hours or more each day in the blistering Florida sun in hopes of earning a couple dollars (literally, a couple dollars). They are shuttled to and from work in rickety old buses and not allowed to travel anywhere outside of home or work. They live in enslavement camps, having come here, ironically, to escape their primary nation’s poor economy and chase the American Dream.

I remember my eyes welling with tears and anger while I listened to the story on the radio. I was sad about the obvious injustice and I was mad at myself. I was sitting in a 2006 Nissan Titan SE–an impressive (and expensive) truck with every luxury I could order it with. I made good money, then, and it was my first (and probably last) luxury car instead of just the best car I could afford.

It struck me that my truck was as big as the entire home of the 12 immigrant workers I was learning about, and many times nicer. The Titan cost more than 4 years of their salary, if they spent their money on absolutely nothing else, not even eating.

I was sitting in my spacious truck, parked outside of my house. Unlike their living quarters, my house had a fireplace, fully finished basement, 2 kitchens, jacuzzi tub, cherry wood flooring, a big backyard, and a large, covered porch complete with a love-seat rocking swing.

The Immokalee tomato pickers, I knew, would do anything to live my life. They could not even imagine having it this good. Clean, running water would have been a huge improvement for them. They would have collectively traded their lives for my truck–a vast improvement over their own mold-infested dwelling, let alone my house.

I was sad for them, but what really made me mad was that I had no idea how good my life was. Before the news story came on, I was feeling depressed and upset that I really wanted to trade in my Nissan Titan for a Tesla Roadster and my house was entirely too small for me, my estranged wife, and my 2 cats.

Worse, I was lamenting that I might never be able to afford the house I was going to visit that night–a mansion belonging to two millionaire acquaintances–a lonely, but friendly couple with a lot of money and time to spend. Their house was the one I imagined owning, with huge artwork murals decorating their living room with 20 foot high ceilings, a second level so large it literally had a bridge to cross from one side of the upper house to the other, and an expensive multi-level hardwood deck. I had two kitchens in my home but this couple had a gorgeous metal, marble, and wood professional grade kitchen with a preparatory island nearly the size of one of my kitchens. Their enormous house was lavish, tactful, and drool-worthy.

I was not prepared for our conversation that night. Much to my surprise they complained about their sprawling home and wished they had a bigger house! They pointed to the even larger mansion next door, which had turrets and was entirely built of stone like a castle, with a large rounded archway that doubled as a entrance-way and driveway. It was truly a stunningly large home. Nonetheless, I was flabbergasted. I glimpsed my future.

I knew, then, that I would never be happy with “more”. There is no end to what I will want. I had a Titan. I wanted a Roadster. If I had a Roadster, I would want a Porsche. Or maybe a boat, and when I had the boat I would want a yacht, and it would never end. Here I was, unaware that a low middle-class American making at least $30,000 per year (much less than I made at the time) fares better and is wealthier than 90% of the rest of the world’s people. I was the person that 90% of the world actually aspired to be… I have the lifestyle 99% of the world wishes they had. And I wanted more. The people who seemingly had everything I wanted… they wanted more, too. I wondered about the residents of the castle home. I wondered if they lamented over only having 3 homes, and a smaller yacht than their friends, and only a Tesla Roadster instead of a Lamborghini and a Roadster.

Well, flash forward about 7 years and I left most of that life behind. I took a job for about 1/5 of the pay I had then. It was definitely a harsh adjustment at first, but I started over and rather than embracing “More”, I actively chose to embrace “Less”. Now, I live a minimalist lifestyle, I make about half of what I used to, I own much less than half of what I used to, I even weigh less than I used to… and I have never been happier.

To be honest, I still struggle with wanting more. It is impossible not to think about all the “more” things you could have in a country that thrives on consumerism and marketing warfare. I am not decrying Capitalism, by the way. I am a staunch advocate for earning and enjoying the pleasures brought by technology and innovation, and I believe you should pay fairly for things that offer greater style, engineering, functionality, or design. No one should work for free or expect anything for free.

However, I find letting go of things that do not serve more than the purpose I need, or serve no purpose at all, frees me to live in less space yet have more freedom. For everything I can live without, I gain freedom over Space (less clutter in my life; more space to think), Time (I do not have to spend part of my life caring for trinkets I rarely look at or use), and personal Happiness (instead of wanting more, I am focused on wanting less and learning to appreciate what I have).

Businesses, of course, fall into the same trap of “More is More!”. The goal of every business I have worked for is a never-ending quest for the elusive “more”. There is never a definition of what is “enough.” No business seems to have an end-goal in mind of when they will be satisfied, of when their workers are generating “enough” revenue, of when their production is “enough” to make the shareholders happy. When your goal is merely to earn more and more money, how will you ever reach your goal? There is always “more” waiting for you.

On a social level, when your goal is only to be more thin, how will you ever lose “enough” weight? The body you see in the mirror will always be able to trim a little here or there.

When our goal is more racial, or gender, or religious equality, then how will we ever become equal? There is always some (person, group, or thing) that seems to have more equal opportunities than someone else.

When your goal is to always be “better” (a variation of “more”), then how will you ever be happy knowing you are “good enough” for yourself? When “more” is the goal, then “good enough” is removed by default. What would “enough” mean to you when it comes to being “good enough”? Do you know where better stops?

I know there are some motivated listeners and motivational speakers who would convince each other that some vague nonsense constitutes an actual destination (“being better is the goal”, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, “just be a little better than you were yesterday”, etc.). The problem here is when you have no definition of when “enough” is enough, then you have removed the possibility of happiness and contentment. There will always be “more” and “better” waiting for you in life. “Infinity” is not a goal.
If I could remove just one concept from our ideology or one word from our language, I think it would be “More”. We do not need more. We simply need enough, and sometimes, sadly, we do not know when we have had it.

Today’s lesson: In a society where “More” is all we want, more or less, then I challenge you to start thinking about what the word “enough” means to you and consider that sometimes “Less is More”.

 

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What a Great Question!

I have a terrible habit of this and you probably do, too!

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Someone asked me a question and I began my answer with, “That’s a great question!”

This is a habit I am trying to break. There are definitely worse habits to worry about but this habit of qualifying the statements of others bugs me. When I say it, I feel like I am implying that I have considered all possible questions and deemed the question you are asking as worthy of taking time from my busy, important schedule to answer.

When you qualify what someone else says, you are in essence, passing judgment during what is probably casual conversation. “That is a great question,” implies other questions the person could have asked might have been terrible but they managed to pull a decent one out of their hat. It is like praising an adult for being potty-trained. When people say, “That’s a great question” to me, I like to joke with them. I will reply, “Oh, thank you! I came up with that question by myself just now! I am very proud of it.”

The same is true for other innocently meant but nonetheless judgmental statements. “Good one!” is one I hear a lot, or people who qualify jokes after laughing at them, “That was funny”.

There are better non-judging responses available. Instead of “That’s a great question”, try “I am glad you asked…”. Instead of “That’s funny,” try, well, you know… just laughing.

 

Today’s Lesson: Listen to your language. How often are you using words unconsciously and sending a message different from what you intend?

 

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Don’t Have A Nice Day!

I am trying to stop ending conversations with “Have a… (nice day, happy holiday, good night, etc.)”.

I think there is a subtle implication in the language there; it’s almost like a threat. When someone says, “Have a nice day” to me, I feel compelled to say, “…Or what?”

I know no one means it as a threat. I am being a bit facetious, but  I think it is worth the effort to be more conscious with language. Ending conversations or messages with “have a great day!” is an excessive and mostly pointless social ritual. In truth, I probably do not care if the person has a nice rest of their day. It is likely I will not give it another thought once we part ways. Good for them if their day is nice but I probably will not speak to them for the remainder of the day so it will not make much difference to me overall.

“Have a nice day” is rarely presented as a wish or a good intention. It is a command. We do not say, “I wish for you a nice day”. Although, I do find slightly more palatable the phrase, “Hope you have a nice day”–at least, that is not a demand.

I also like the alternative of simply not using it. If my having a nice day is irrelevant to someone, I hope they do not say it just to say it. I would rather they simply say, “Good bye” with a warm smile (or at least a polite one!).

What do you think? Do you have language pet peeves and alternatives you prefer?

Until next time… I wish for you a… nah, I don’t really care.

 

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Today’s Lesson: No Cure for Cursing? [141017]

NOTE: Nearly all my posts are family friendly or, at most, PG-13 in nature, but below this sentence is a lot of foul language, in case you are easily offended or typically not expecting that from me.

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Most people know me as someone who does not like using swear words. I am not perfect yet at never using them but I try to avoid foul language, four-letter words, swearing, or whatever you might call that type of language. It is interesting to me bad language is often referred to as “cursing”. It seems fitting. Those words seem powerful (after all, we call it “dropping an F-Bomb” not “dropping an F-Butterfly”). We use them the way gypsies from legend used curses. “F*ck you!” we say, cursing someone else, sending them poison and ill intent the same way superstitious old women might have said, “I put a curse on you and your family!” and spit on the ground.

They may be watered down today but we react to curse words as if they are actual curses with potent effect… until we don’t. Little can sour your mood faster than having someone hurl a curse at you but the more they do it, the less effect it has on you. “That’s just Bob,” we say, “He shoots off at the mouth a lot, but he’s harmless…”

I believe cursing is one of the most brainless things we do.

If you really want to speak powerfully and have your words carry weight, try giving up cursing. Lazy, thoughtless language carries almost no impact over time. Curse words come too easily. We put no effort into them, except in trying to be creative by making even more watered-down curses (I mean, really, what is a “f*ck-tard”, anyway? It is an even lazier way of saying “f*cking retard” which is already meaningless since most people do not know the actual clinical definition for being mentally retarded, and, of course, it has nothing to do with intercourse).

If you truly want to speak powerfully, name the exact evil you are frustrated with. Yelling at your estranged lover, “You are a f*cking as*hole!” is does not relieve your anger and it does not help him identify the nature of what he is doing (or how he can correct it). Instead, name exactly what he is doing. It carries the weight of an anvil being dropped on his head. Plus, being specific forces you to think and see reality clearly (thus granting you power to control it). “You are a lazy, unproductive looter wasting your life on video games.” Now, THAT’s a powerful statement and it takes more work than just saying, “You lazy bastard…”

Today’s lesson is, think before you speak, say exactly what you mean, and don’t talk too much anyway. If you are listening, then you are probably not cursing.

 

 

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