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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Is Life A Numbers Game?

That has been the question boggling my mind for the past week or so. Life seems to be a numbers game; numbers determine a lot about our lives; the amount of money we get paid determines what class we are. Our GPA determines what schools/scholarships we get. The gas mileage our car gets determines how far we can go. The list of examples goes on, and on, and on; ironically, the list of examples is countless.

This past week and still this week, I struggle with numbers. Numbers are very much a prevalent part of my life and my mind is analytical (ask those that know me-I have so much useless analytical knowledge that it's astounding). I like analysis. I like the ability to statistically predict what will, can, or may happen. It's comforting to know that the odds are playing one way. That's not to say I gamble because I don't; I suck at bluffing, and I'm far too cheap to put any amount of money on anything.

Even with all the stats, analysis, and observations I can make, I still can't quite convince myself that life is, for a certainty, a numbers game. I can't bring myself to make that assessment, simply because I've beaten a few numbers recently that I thought I would never beat. I never thought I'd be below 200...and I never thought I'd be below 180...and I certainly never thought I'd fit comfortably back into size 32 pants.

The numbers indicated a few years ago a lot of things that are not true now. Numbers, odds, would have told you that there was no way I would have ever gone up to Virginia, found a second family there, and made some life altering changes. Yet, I did. If life were truly a numbers game, there would be no way that I would have succeeded as I have so far.

Life can't be a numbers game but then, so much is still determined by numbers. And here I find myself, going back and forth on this argument. Is life a numbers game? Yes and No. Which is about as good an answer as "Maybe." Maybe is lame. Maybe doesn't give any closure, one way or another, and certainly doesn't help. It's just filler really.

I can offer pros and cons for both sides of the argument. I've beaten the odds, I know others that have beaten the odds, I can cite cases back and forth that show, if life was a numbers game, these things could not happen. On the flip side, I can cite cases that show that the numbers were right.

I can't really decide which leaves me wondering if I'm even asking the right question. Instead of asking "Is life a numbers game?" should I be asking "Do humans make life a numbers game?"

And the answer to that second question is more immediate; yes, humans do make life a numbers game. Why? Because we want control. I'm guilty of wanting control. I love control. Without control we, as human beings, would easily kill ourselves a thousand times over. As a species we would be extinct long ago. Self-control has allowed us to become the dominant species on Earth; that's not saying we're good like that all the time, we're not most of the time, but it's those key moments that we exert self-control that allows us as a species to live on.

We can control numbers. Stats can make anyone look good and can be controlled just like everything else. We like that. We make life a numbers game and we have control of life, because we have control of the numbers.

Of course, there's a problem with that; we routinely beat the odds we set on others and on ourselves. We beat the numbers in the numbers game we, supposedly, control. It's anarchy I guess, maybe chaos theory, but whatever the case may be, humans like to make life a numbers game. We want that control. We want to be able to predict, anticipate, and plan for life.

But you can't plan for life. It's a lesson that I must constantly remind myself of every day. There's a phrase a dear friend of mine often repeats to me when I tell her about struggles or successes with my weight that doesn't make sense to me...that doesn't fit into any pattern; she says, "your body's not a machine."

I desperately wish it was. It is, to a certain extent, a machine, but not one that is as precise as I would like. I can't make it work some days and days where I fully expect it not to work, it does. It confuses and frustrates me.

But what she says about the body is also true about life. "Your life is not a machine." As much as we want it to be a numbers game, as much as we would like it to function like an equation with a known quantity, and as much as we predict what should happen...some of the time it doesn't work out like that. Life is not a machine, it doesn't respond the same way twice to the variables we put into it.

So, if humanity wants life to be a numbers game and we routinely beat the odds we set upon ourselves...then life can't be a numbers game. We don't have full control over life. We have some control, mind you, but not full unbreakable control.

We wish we had that full control but we don't.

That, out of everything, is probably the hardest thing to accept.  

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