The tyranny of numbers

We have allowed ourselves as a culture to become sidetracked by the appeal of numbers. I know how hard it is to make decisions. Perhaps one of the reasons I have such a hard time making choices is because I refuse to be distracted by simple solutions.

It would be an unusual parent who could choose which child they love more. But how much simpler it is to say which child is older, is taller, weighs more; you could even figure out, if you wanted to waste your time, which child consumes more resources. But most of us realize how foolish it would be to make decisions based on the measurable criteria.

Yet so often we are urged to make decisions, when some criteria are immeasurable, to proceed as if the measurable, the record-able, the replicable criteria are superior to those which cannot be put down in numbers.

We see this daily in the way we judge value by price, or monetary cost- while ignoring social and emotional costs. If some people will work for less money, we don’t look at the attitudes that lead to why they are paid less, we assume that if one person is paid more, he must have more value than those paid less. Artists create, mothers create nurturing environments for family life, others do work simply because it’s all that’s available where they are or it needs doing. This doesn’t diminish the importance of what they are doing, but it seriously diminishes the appearance of the importance of what they are doing. We mustn’t fall into this trap.

This is the logic of using a screwdriver for a hammer because you have a screwdriver in your pocket, and the hammer is in the box out of reach. Admittedly, if you are unable to go get the correct tool, you make do with what you have. Sometimes we put our finger in the dyke and wait, because it woAnsel Adamsuld be disaster to remove it. But most times the disaster comes from using the wrong tool because it was more convenient at the moment.

We need to stop using numbers as the convenient tool, and use the RIGHT tool for making important decisions. Stop counting how many days one can add to life expectancy, but count how many good experiences a therapy can add. Stop asking how much someone has in the bank and ask how much he enjoys his or her life. Numbers are easy to record and compare, but they aren’t the right way to make important decisions.

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