‘Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty – a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture.’ ~ Bertrand Russell.
I was seven years old when I went to live in Jamaica. The first school I attended was a small private school, run by a retired couple. Teacher G taught the older students, his wife taught the babies, and their only employee taught my class. Like most young children, I was learning to fit into my new environment fairly well, until the day I graduated into Teacher G’s class and skipped at least two grades. From doing simple addition and subtraction; basic division and multiplication, I was suddenly looking at problems like: ‘If it takes a man and a half a day and a half to plough a field and a half, what time will the two trains crash?’ OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly what the problem looked like, but suffice it to say I ended up most afternoons having to be picked up from the doctor’s office across the street! I would develop the most severe stomach ache! Fortunately before too long my parents felt comfortable enough to send me to a bigger school a little further away, and my math related sickness went away.
The other day I was thinking about mathematical symbols, and how they can relate to our lives. Have you ever noticed that there are some people who add to your life, while others take away? I am fortunate in my life to have met people who have added to my knowledge and wisdom by contributing their own perspectives, adding to my own personal experiences. But there are those, perhaps without realizing it, whose words actually make you feel smaller, less than the person you are.
And it doesn’t end with the addition and subtraction. Are you a divider? Do you enter situations and create divisions where there were none before? Or does your contribution multiply the positive effects, bringing about new potential for growth, enhancing the environment? At times we are so concerned with our own lives, our own problems; we don’t notice the impact we can have on the lives of others. There is an amazing thing which happens when we give and live selflessly which defies the mathematical realities: the more you give, the more you receive. And the converse of that is that the more you hold onto for yourself, the more material goods you try to acquire, the emptier you eventually become.
We use mathematical terms in our everyday life. Just this week I was reminded that when we have to make a decision, we can look at the pluses and minuses of the situation. We can make lists and compare the pros and the cons. But we have to be careful, because the items on the list may not be of equal value. There may be one item on the plus side that outweighs five or six items on the minus side. Another reference I overheard was about positive and negative attitudes. And unfortunately, in social situations, two negatives do not make a positive. Too often you can see a destructive outlook infesting a room and if you are not careful, the mood spreads.
Your outlook can determine so much in your life, from the people you attract to your health and wellbeing. So much is determined by your own inner strength. I have seen people who have every excuse to be negative and burdened as they deal with chronic pain or distressing life situations, and yet they are often the ones who lift your spirits when you are down.
One of my favorite nursing stories goes back to my first days as a student nurse. A patient, an Irish woman in her sixties who was recovering from surgery for cancer, called me over one evening. She told me I was looking ‘peaky’ (a term which means pale and tired), and reached for a bottle of Guinness. She pulled me close so no one could see, and whispered “I had one of my boys bring it for you. Add a raw egg to it, and it will set you right!” Her ‘boys’ were six foot tall construction workers, so I had to believe in the power of her remedy! I actually never drank it but set it on the dresser in my room to remind me of the generosity of that lady.
Another lesson came from a nursing student who was determined to complete nursing school despite suffering from sickle cell disease. She would sit in the classroom in obvious pain and yet be totally focused on the lesson. Her indomitable spirit and desire to succeed inspired all of the other students. She brought that algebraic factor into the room, that unknown, that factor X that could lift her above her pain and make her transcend her illness.
What is your unknown factor? What is it that you can bring to a room, to a conversation, to the world? Have you ever explored your potential to be more, to do more? Have you really thought about the parts of your life that could be expanded by the activation of that unknown factor? What is it that makes some people able to overcome great hardship and grow into powerful people? The other day I heard an interview with an author who has noted that many world leaders have one thing in common: they suffered adversity such as the loss of a parent in their childhood. Presidents Clinton and Obama are just two who come to mind. Yet this did not subtract from their potential for greatness, in fact it may have propelled them even further.
On this Friday morning, I hope you can reflect on your mathematical skills and see how you can add and not subtract, how you can multiply the good and not be a divider, so that we can leave the world better than we found it. May your unknown factor be shining and strong and demonstrate such resilience to the world that you inspire others to better cope with their own challenges. And if you are feeling as if life has been dividing you into too many pieces, stop and take a moment to refill your empty spaces, to reenergize and to renew your spirit.
One Love Family!