The Evil of Numbers

They’re everywhere: on the cover of every magazine, on the sign for every gas station, on the face of every clock.

As a student of English, I always had an inherent disdain for any subject dealing with numbers: math, chemistry, physics, etc. Hence, my C in 9th grade geometry. It was a dark time.

As I progressed through my collegiate career, I was privileged to deal with numbers less frequently and to be surrounded by people who shared my sentiments. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that numbers are one of the principal roots of all evil.

That seems like a pretty bold claim, of course, but I’m not talking about scary, fire and brimstone, universal type of evil. Rather, numbers are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to things that disturb our inner peace.

If you think about it, most common sources of stress are directly or indirectly associated with numbers:

  • We stress about grades.
  • We stress about our age.
  • We stress about our weight.
  • We stress about money.
  • We stress about not having enough time.

All of these examples focus on numbers. Why? What’s a number anyway, and how can we break free from them?

According to a general definition, a number is “a mathematical object used in counting and measuring”. Obviously, anything with the word “mathematical” in it raises a red flag, but beyond that, counting and measuring are activities solely attributed to humans on this planet. That is, numbers were created by, and only exist because of, the human race. They are entirely manmade. Numbers are a system put in place to help us control our lives and assert our importance in the universe.

You need good grades so you can make a lot of money. You need a lot of money so you can buy a big house and fill it with stuff. You need to maintain a certain weight so society will find you attractive. You need to rush to school and work so you’ll be on time. You need to act your age.

All of these needs are constructs that we as a species have decided to enforce upon ourselves. As a result, we have become slaves to numbers.

So, what to do? Obviously, numbers aren’t going anywhere, and trying to live without them would be absurd. Good grades, a healthy weight, and income to live on are important. We do need numbers, for better or worse.

However, we do not need to allow numbers to control us. We can’t get rid of them, but we can change the way we think about them. They’re just numbers.

A grade is just a number. It does not define who you are as a person. Doing your best is what defines you.

Eating well is important, but it’s not healthy to stress over every tiny fluctuation on the bathroom scale.

We should act our age most of the time, but we can’t forget how to play.

Stop. Rushing. Wherever you’re going will still be there when you arrive.

It’s just money. That statement is going to offend some of you, but even if you don’t have a single cent to your name, you’re still going to be able to wake up in the morning and breathe fresh air. You’re not going to die. There’s comfort in that way of thinking.

Speaking of having no money, I’d like to give some credit to the number zero. Yes, literally having $0.00 in the bank would be stressful, as some of us know, but imagine if there was no money at all — in the world. How much more relaxed would life be if money didn’t exist? How much more relaxed would you be if you didn’t have a clock strapped to your wrist telling you where you were supposed to be all the time? Wouldn’t it be nice to identify yourself by how old you feel?

Zero can be considered the absence of numbers. Zero is simplicity. Zero is inner peace. When your inbox is empty, you feel calm. When your desk is free of clutter, you feel relaxed. When your head is emptied of all worries, life is good.

Since numbers are here to stay, try seeing them for what they are: just a little made-up invention to help us control our world. We can’t get rid of numbers, but we can change how we think about them, and subsequently, be a little less stressed.

Control the numbers; don’t let them control you. They’re just numbers.