Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Doing the Numbers

In every broadcast of American Public Media's Marketplace a point comes when the host says, "Let's do the numbers." And every morning, on my way to work, I hear the media doing numbers of a different kind: the number of casualties from the latest suicide bombing in Iraq, the number of American military killed in the most recent skirmish.

I suppose it's important for us to know about these numbers. They help us to understand what's called "the human cost" of our species' penchant for violence. And if we can think of them as people and not just numbers, perhaps our hearts will be moved to really work for peace. (Remember Stalin's famous remark, "The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.")

Yet it seems to me that if we need to know these numbers, there are some other numbers we should know as well:
  • The number of children who died since yesterday because of a lack of access to healthcare;
  • The number of people of color who were harrassed and arrested simply because of the color of their skin and a police officer's assumptions about that;
  • The number of gay, lesbian, and transgender kids who were taunted, shunned, and even beaten just for being who they are;
And better yet, what about these numbers:
  • The number of alcoholics who lived one more day of sobriety;
  • The number of stressed out, overworked parents who didn't hit their kids;
  • The number of people facing seemingly impossible odds who made a decision to change their lives . . . and began to act on it;
  • The number of acts of kindness performed without thought to recompense;
  • The number of strangers who became friends;
  • The number of people who's lives were saved by acts of love

Surely there are many numbers we need to know about in order to make sense out of the world we live in. And, as it's often been noted, what we choose to make the focus of our attention helps determine our experience of that world. So next time you "do the numbers," think carefully about what numbers you do.

In Gassho,


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