The arithmetic of community doesn’t seem to be adding up. The geometry of our community seems to be bending it’s shape. The algebraic variables presenting themselves in the expectations of society seem to be infinite. The statistics seem to be forever contradictory depending on who established them. The usual functions often don’t seem to be functioning. And it seems that we find ourselves in a period of exponential decay.
Mathematics is often referred to as truth where proven mathematical structures are established to prove or disprove a given conjecture. An issue to be noted here is that without the study of language, I wouldn’t have been able to write that sentence, let alone understand what it is actually trying to say… Mathematics is usually a black and white subject accentuated by red. The dreaded red pen provides the indication that you're either right, or you're wrong. And I say indication intentionally. I remember a specific event in 9th grade. The class was Algebra 2, the teacher was Ms Smith (yes, that was her actual name!), and the test was a big one. 100
tormenting algebraic equations in all, and 90 mins to answer them all in.
For the few of you that knew me back then, you may remember that although I loathed homework, I loved maths. There was, however, one thing I loved more… Getting out of class so I could go and read another Louise L’Amour cowboy story. Therefore, when the teacher gave us the opportunity to leave class the moment we finished the test, I sprinted through the test and left the classroom for the library.
Two days after test day, I returned into class that fateful day to learn that I had received a big red “0” on my latest maths test. One big “0” and 100 “X”s. And they did NOT represent one hug and a hundred kisses (luckily for me). I felt like Wyatt Earp when he was cornered at the O.K. Corral and I was missing my reasonably trusty sidekick, Doc Holiday. For someone who loves maths to get a “0” on a big test, no matter how much of an avant garde student you are, a “0” still comes as a shock. I looked at my paper as the teacher went to the front of the room and began to go through each question so that she could explain the concept to any of us that had gotten it wrong.
Question #1 was discussed. The correct answer was given. My eyebrows instinctively went up just slightly before my hand reached upwards. Ms. Smith asked, “Yes, Andrew?”
I replied, “I got the correct answer but I was marked wrong!”.
“Yes, but you didn’t show your working.” She answered, before continuing, “Question #2…”
I was a little perplexed. Ms. Smith continued on explaining question #2, and when she wrote the answer on the bottom, this time my hand went up just slightly after my eyebrows instinctively narrowed. Anyone that loves mathematics, loves to look for patterns! And there already seemed to be a pattern emerging here. Ms. Smith sighed and asked, “Yes, Andrew?”
I continued the pattern and replied, “I got the correct answer but I was marked wrong!”.
“Yes, but you didn’t show your working.” With her reply, I knew that this pattern was going to quickly deteriorate to a value less than positive for the classroom environment.
With this reply, I then understood that there was 98 more potential nodes in this pattern, and that would be too painful for any of us to endure. So, I threw in a new variable to the equation. It was a variable that I had used often, but not a variable that was usually appreciated by any teacher. My variable was to throw in a logic statement!!
“But Ms. Smith.” I interjected. “IF I could do the equations in my head, THEN I didn’t need to show my working.” If you could have seen the bane that was displayed on Ms. Smith’s face. The nerve of a 9th grade student throwing a logic statement at an algebra teacher!!
And it was this that generated the final truth statement as Ms. Smith retorted, “You were the only person in the class to get 100%. You must have cheated. If I can’t do them in my head, then you can’t.”
Truth statements have the ability to put an end to all arguments. And that retort did exactly that. When I came to an understanding of the ultimate truth behind Ms. Smith’s actions, then I packed up my bag and walked towards the classroom door without another word.
“Where do you think you’re going?!” She half snarled at me.
“IF you say that I got every answer right AND I was the only one in the class to do so, THEREFORE, in your assumption, I must have cheated, AND THEREFORE given me a zero, then logically I am in the wrong classroom AND THEREFORE am going to leave. However, I’m not sure who you are assuming that I copied the answers from.” In my rebellious youth, lacking wisdom, I had again replied with a more complex logic statement than Ms. Smith seemed to be able to handle, as there was no further reply from her as I opened the door and left.
30 mins later, the Librarian came over to me in the Library while I was reading, and said, “Andrew, the principal wants to see you in his office.” My eyes instinctively rolled and I got up to leave. No witty reply to the Librarian as she was the one that made sure that there were more Louis L’Amour books!!
The lesson I learned from this experience was an important one. That day is etched in my mind until today. The tense emotion of the situation was one where, in my opinion, both parties were justified in their stands. Both stands were based on what each considered the truth to be. And these two truths differed to a level where conflict arose to a level that soured the relationship between myself and a teacher. With that, all logic and algebraic equations fall apart.
This life lesson for me is a reflection of how we need to truly approach community building and how we develop relationships with each other. The capacity of community far outweighs the potential of any one individual. And we need to understand this when we are interacting with each other. We can become so focussed on ourselves, what we do, what we think is important. We can make all sorts of assumptions from the limitations of ourselves and our own experiences. And worst of all, we can take action based on the limitation of ourselves.
In the complexity of all of the logic statements that we can craft, and the variables of life that can be thrown into the equation, we may need to get back to some really simple TRUE / FALSE statements and check our answers.
I know everything – FALSE
I know everything about you – FALSE
If I can’t do it, you can’t do it – FALSE
Working together will produce a better outcome – TRUE
Let us really come together and bring everything that we have, because I’m sure that in my areas of weakness, there are people of strength out there that can help make tomorrow a better day. TRUE.