As you may know, Lady Hiva and I are on the hunt for a home now that we are permanently moving to Utah. We thought that this was going to be a fun experience. We both love to see homes and HDTV makes it look so easy and happy--WRONG! We have looked at houses that we both don't like at all and others that either the inside is great and outside is...not so great. We have also seen the inverse where the outside is beautiful and the inside has something to left to be desired. There are big yards and small yards, carpet or no carpet, good neighbors and some sketchy neighbors. So I started to ask people at work where they live and if they like their neighborhood. One of my colleagues said, "I love my neighborhood!" and proceeded to tell me how great the neighbors are and the ward etc. I went to see the area on the map and asked what her address was and she hesitated (as if I was asking so I could come stock her or something...haha) and she finally said, "If I tell you, you promise that you realize the address is JUST a number?"
I was a bit perplexed, but agreed and wondered what kind of address could summon that kind of hesitation, because after all most addresses in Utah (thanks to the grid system) are a combination of numbers and two of the four directions ex: 300 West 200 South. She finally started and I was shocked as she spoke and paused my typing...."666..." What an address! Later we were joking about it and she mentioned that she has people give all kinds of reactions to the number and in fact, as we were talking one of our other colleagues chimed in and asked (joking of course) if "Satan lives there?" Oh boy!
As I thought about this more I began to think how much numbers mean to us. We assign meaning to them and nearly worship their importance. Sometimes that is helpful and others it is destructive and distracting. At times number represent superstitions--like 666 or the number 13. These superstitions run deep for people that is why there are very few buildings in the world with 13 floors and Friday the 13th is a marked with a curse...or so they say. We also put meaning into other types of numbers. How large our salary is--this in many ways bleeds over into other areas of our lives and the numbers become part of our identity. If we have a large salary we will have multiple cars, have a house with more square feet than the neighbors and wear clothes that cost more than feeding thousands of children in a developing country. The numbers give us meaning that we literally wear on our sleeves.
Other ways we allow numbers to shape our lives are more social, how high the number is on the scale when we step on, how many children we have, how many days until a holiday or event, how old we are, how many years have we been at our job, how long we have been married...the list goes on and on.
But they are just numbers.
Taking an idea from Max Lucado in "YOU ARE SPECIAL" Punchanello is worried about what others think of him and how they give him bad dots not good stars (similar to us with our infatuation with numbers) and goes to visit the creator, Eli. Eli tells Punchanello that what the others think and whether they give stars or dots do not matter. Those stars and dots only matter if we assign importance to them. Just like numbers, they will only matter if we assign importance to them.
Others may use numbers to judge us and compare with themselves, but just like Eli's lesson, it will only matter if we let it. Does it really matter that our dress or suit was 10 or 100 times more expensive than the person next to us? Does it matter how many children we choose to have? Many cultures place a high importance on age, but in the end does it really matter, or is it the talents that we hold that matter, regardless of age?
We need numbers to quantify and measure things. it is easy to use numbers to understand the world, they are finite and stable--quantifiable. But do we miss the big eternal picture when we put so much weight into the quantification process?
Believe me when I say I am not saying that all numbers are bad. Searching for a house is a good example. Numbers are handy when you discuss size, price and other aspects of the process. Yet, if we use numbers to degrade and judge others by trying to put them into the parameters we believe are the best. When we find ourselves using numbers that way, we need to remember that it is just a number and the people behind the number is what matters most.
So use numbers, find ways to improve the world with them, but remember to keep them in perspective and remember that it's just a number and only has importance if we allow it to be important.