Math Isn’t for Measuring Heart

There’s a lady at my gym that I see some mornings when I skip a group class and spend some time on an elliptical machine.1

She’s an older lady. Pleasant. And lately she’s been making her way not on the exercise machines, but around and beside them, tracing a path across the exercise floor from one end, to the other. It takes her a while, as she’s not moving as swiftly as most of the folks who clamber across to dance with a machine or two, then scurry away to shower and get on with the day. One of her feet seems to require extra effort and attention to get to move along, and it doesn’t leave the ground as high as the other. I don’t know why.

I’ve been noticing her for a while, and today was a special day. Usually, she makes her way from one side of the room to the other. Then heads out, though I don’t know where.

As I got lulled into the rhythm of my workout, there was a moment that felt like a glitch in the Matrix. She made her way across the room. Again.

It was a big day. She made two trips. She made progress. Lots.

Her story isn’t my story, and I don’t know most of hers2. But she inspired me today.

There’s another woman at my gym who I’m reminded of as I write this. She’s in some classes I take, and she’s pretty good. In fact, she’s internationally ranked as one of the top 100 folks in the world who take this class3.

Each of those women are aiming at different goals. But they’re certainly both aiming. If we were to measure the activity of one of them against the other, the results would be way off scale. There’s no way, with straight numbers to numbers, apples to apples comparisons, you can meaningfully compare the two.

Except to say this – they’re both showing up. And they both have heart. They’re taking what they’ve got and pushing to do a little bit better each and every day.

It’s hard to measure heart. It’s not something arithmetic or long division are designed to do. Heart doesn’t look great in a pie chart. Heart isn’t made for spreadsheets. Heart just plain hates standard deviations.

Nine ounces of muscle isn’t the whole story. A statistician or psychometrician can’t, I hope, tell me that I love someone less than someone else loves someone else. And that statistician can’t see or quantify the fire that burns and fuels a kind woman’s walk across a floor.

This time of year, as my children and many others in Colorado and elsewhere are sitting for tests that get used to determine SO MANY THINGS, I want to remember extra well that math can be confused for truth. And measurement of what someone’s done in the past can often be used to keep them from doing better4 down the road. I hope you’re not getting confused or putting up walls for other folks based on the numbers that you can easily crunch. I hope you’re looking past the easy numbers into the real stories that need noticing and telling.

Don’t let anyone tell you or your students that there’s a single number or equation that can completely define them. It ain’t so.

Not even a little bit.

  1. Yes, I should be running more than using machines. But I’ve an issue with my knee. And sometimes I like to catch up on television while I workout. I’m weak human. []
  2. And I didn’t tell it very well, either, but I bet you get the idea. []
  3. Yeah. It’s Crossfit. But it’s not a cult and I don’t have tractor tires in my backyard or anything. I’m just working to push back the actuarial tables that describe my existence. Take that, actuarial tables. []
  4. Or even trying. []

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