Once You Know Better


“I still think 24…”

This was one of the final responses in a string of comments I was part of that spawned from a math word problem. People HATE word problems. In all fairness, I think virtually every word problem I’ve come across since school ended for me, and half of them while I was in school, hinged not so much on the numbers in the sentences but on understanding the words of the sentences themselves. Word problems are the devil, to be sure, and deficient understanding of grammar and word meaning will only help that devil catch you.

It would be one thing if word problems were more about communicating numbers through words and making sure the reader could still conclude the correct math, but instead they seem to be more about presenting a frustrating riddle. And I hate riddles. I know some people use them in interviews or tackle riddles for fun, but to me they hardly have value beyond determining just how long someone is willing to hit their head against a wall… And since I don’t like hitting my head against walls, I don’t do riddles. But I digress.

Word (math) problems, like riddles, are terrible beasts.

In the word problem I started off mentioning, there was some back and forth and differing answers. Some said the answer is 24 (as in the quote earlier). Some said 21. Some said 15, I think. My answer, as well as the answer of a few others, was 5. This happens to be the correct answer and those of us who answered correctly arrived at that answer through the problem’s tricky words. After there had been plenty of back and forth and it seemed clear that some feelings were being hurt (as is often the case when things seem so open to interpretation), I decided to turn to the Internet for a concrete solution. After poking around online I found that, indeed, 5 is the correct, not-open-to-interpretation answer as verified by the words and the resultant math. It might seem cold and harsh but there generally can be only one correct answer to a math problem (certainly some exclusions apply). All others are factually wrong. And that’s the difference between opinion and fact… In this case, the difference manifests between words and numbers associated with those words. After I presented the actual, factual answer to the word problem there was one person who responded with the aforementioned quote, “I still think 24…”

I think it’s totally fine to debate words using words. It’s healthy to discuss word meaning and word usage. Knowing word meaning and word usage is critical – in fact, you can’t even learn higher things like some forms of math without using words. That’s how important and powerful words are. Like Ganesha in the Hindu pantheon who is the essential gatekeeper and without whom it is said hardly anything is even possible, without words and their correct understanding and employment – you simply get stuck awfully fast.  Ugh… and I might have digressed again!

The point I’m trying to make is that, with many things, you CAN know the hard truth because it exists. Yes, much can be open to interpretation – but all that means is that the concrete answer might not be simply black or white, but rather falls somewhere in the large gray area in between. But it’s no less concrete or sure. When we think of things being black or white we misunderstand that – we liken it to being cut-n-dry. While they do imply certain cut-n-dry-ness, black and white are primarily just opposites. Extremes, purely in relation to each other. To say something sits in the large gray in-between might SOUND like it’s less certain and more open to wiggle room and interpretation, but it isn’t necessarily. It’s just that it’s simply not a polar opposite to something else. (This does come with a little wiggle room in some cases and would be when a statement like “Just because you’re right doesn’t mean I’m wrong” could apply. Still, that has no actual bearing on the truth of whatever the matter is.)

And yes, everyone is STILL entitled to whatever opinion they choose to carry. But, as already stated, none of that will ever change the truth of anything. Solid or sure truths are sometimes called facts. If your opinion differs from a fact – that’s fine and dandy. But you’re simply incorrect. You’re wrong. At and that point, you being incorrect is also a fact and not open to interpretation. Once you come to know better (once you’re presented with actual and true information which you maybe didn’t know beforehand and you are told that there IS a fact which applies to the situation — and that your willful opinion differs from that fact), then you’re choosing to be wrong and anyone else who also knows better will probably think you’re a fool.

I think most people understand this on at least a basic level. Where things really start going awry is when people seem to have a hard time understanding that and then also think that opinions weigh as much as fact. They. Do. Not. It’s each person’s important responsibility to first understand the difference between fact and opinion and then to decide if they would like to evolve their opinion to match the truth more closely, or else risk looking like a fool. The world needs no more fools than it already has. Let us each be responsible where we can be and be open to truth.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti


One response to “Once You Know Better

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