What are we counting on?

1 January 2024. Another day. What is different?

Nothing outside the tiny inward-looking world of humanity. Nature continues to work hard: in the Northern hemisphere many plants have long withdrawn from the surface and are regenerating in readiness for Spring.

As far as we know, only humans use numbers, at least as a written language. We count the days and hours and everything else. Numbers measure our wealth, our health, our happiness. But are they accurate? Do they even have meaning?

As a chronic disease sufferer, in my late teens I went to a lecture by my consultant, a leading authority, and was struck by a statistic concerning the big increase in the likelihood of suffering from cancer. From then I decided not to spend my entire life worrying about this and so focused on living, not reading medical literature.

Today I see many people obsessed with health data on their phones and watches. Apps can be a genuine aid for critical illness, but day to day do they feed worry and starve enjoyment of daily life?

I watch runners and joggers, trudging among some of the most beautiful natural scenery you will find, eyes down, earbuds blasting them with sound, eventually stopping, not to enjoy the view, but to check their statistical performance.

We collect and attempt to interpret numbers more and more, in pandemic modelling, in economics, in climate, in health, in our virtual existences, presumably to improve our lives. It’s disappointing then that so many people seem to be growing much unhappier.

In his once-popular Don Camillo stories of the 1950s, Italian author Giovanni Guareschi has his priest say: “. . . numbers are what have put men out of joint. Having discovered numbers, they’ve proceeded to deify them.”

It seems to me that numbers drive almost everything today and human (and other life) considerations have been abandoned.

This Christmas I’ve eaten too much home-made cake, too many mince pies and sausage rolls, and drunk a steady flow of wine. I know I’ve expanded and am returning to my usual diet with minimal carbs, home-cooked meat, vegetables and soup, and fresh fruit and nuts. I’ll step on the scales occasionally but won’t obsess about the numbers. My trousers will tell me if my waist is returning to normal.

I’ve already started using numbers less whenever I can and try to consider people and the world around me more.

No way am I rich numerically, but life is richer.

2 thoughts on “What are we counting on?”

  1. Very interesting to read as a numbers-focused person. I have been unable to complete my 12,000 plus steps in recent days because of a chest infection, which I did not help by forcing myself to exercise in its early days. I do realise that I should listen to my body and act accordingly. Feeling recovered today I went for a walk and walked just as far as a I felt comfortable.
    I have been regularly exercising for 4 years and I know that my body will tell me if I need more exercise – I must learn to trust it more and like you only check the numbers to see how I am doing occasionally.

  2. Thanks, John. I bought a pedometer 24 years ago when I was curious as to how far I walked each day with our first spaniel. I relied on it to regain my fitness after a major operation, but now I glance at it occasionally just to know I am walking a reasonable amount. These things are useful, but seem to have become too much of a crutch for many people.


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