The Absolute Value of Humans

This week I taught 5th graders about integers.  We discussed the number line they were used to, which started with zero and only had positive numbers, and then I added in negative numbers.  We practiced getting used to this number line by doing the integer dance.  It closely resembled the electric slide, but the point was to get the students used to moving positive and negative directions.  After all, number lines can be tricky.

We are taught in primary grades that zero is a starting place.  Eventually we get fluent enough in math to amend our previous thoughts about zero and the number line to include negative numbers.  So, now our number line increases to show that really, zero is the middle of a big scale with infinite integers on each side. All numbers on both sides gain their identity from the zero, or the origin.  So, you could say the value of a number is dictated by how far away a number is from the origin, or zero.  This is the absolute value. This week while teaching I wondered “what if we saw people with absolute values, instead of only positives and negatives?”

Zero is the only integer that is neither positive nor negative.  In theory we all want to be greater than zero.  No one wants to be a negative number.  Theoretically being a negative number means you are worse than when you started at the origin.  Zero technically means no objects are present.  If you offer a child zero popsicles, zero pieces of candy, or zero trips to the zoo it might seem to them that zero is a negative, but really, it isn’t.  It’s just unrealized potential.  Zero of something just means nothing has been added or taken away.

Life is just a giant number line.  It’s a series of positives and negatives.  We take steps forward, and we take steps backward. Sometimes we are way ahead of the origin.  Sometimes we are behind the origin.  There are times we tend to feel our value is less than zero when more bad than good happens.  I was encouraged when I thought about absolute value.  We can be -6 or 6 from zero, and the absolute value of both of these is still 6.  There are no negatives in absolute value.  So, even when we have terrible things happen, our value is never negative.  We are always just so many spaces away from where we started, and knowing that can help us get back on the right path, which is right back up the number line.  As we take steps up and down the number line, instead of focusing on the negatives, it is a lot more fun to pretend we are just doing the electric slide.

Weakness Can Make You Strong

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

Who can you be weak with?  Who can you call up and tell when you are scared or lonely? Do you have a person you can just say anything to and know that you won’t be judged, and they might even agree with you about things that most of the world at large would decide you were both crazy for thinking? I’ve only had a few friends in my life that I could admit my weaknesses to, and even with those people it can at times be hard to show how weak I really am.

 Being weak requires trust.  You can’t be weak around someone that might share how weak you are with others, or might think less of you for admitting the weakness.  Being weak also means you remove your defenses.  My heart goes out into the world every day guarded by fences, barbed wire, and even a few junkyard dogs these days.  Letting people in is risky business, and risk taking with me is always limited to calculated risks.  If the reward is greater than the risk, then it is a sure thing, but finding those opportunities is rare.  I have a few great friends.  I have a person that I can say anything to, and know it will be received as I meant it.  I’d rather have a friend like that than any “thing” in the world.

Priorities, obligations, and commitments are heavy.  I carry them around.  I drag them from place to place, pretending they are somehow making me a better person, and I know this is decidedly not true.  I’m left sometimes feeling like I’m holding up the world (even though it is just my little tiny world) and being Atlas can grow tiring.  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stopped holding it up.  I just need a few minutes to rest.  I get tired of being strong, and I feel like I just need to be weak, but this can be problematic, because who wants to admit they are feeling weak? Weak is the opposite of strong.  If I asked a crowded room for a show of hands of who was weak, I will bet no one would even raise a finger.  The reason is simple.  Humans don’t like to admit our weaknesses.  It makes us seem less than, or lacking somehow.  Does that mean we aren’t weak?  Hardly.  Sometimes we just need a safe place to go and be weak.  Vulnerability isn’t  something we set out to achieve.

Being weak is a blessing. Showing a friend a deeper level of myself that others do not get to see helps me be more human.  Having those that love me for who I really am, and not just who I am showing the rest of the world is a gift beyond measure.  It’s okay to be weak sometimes, and those that get to hold me in my weak times with words, hugs, or even love from a distance make me strong enough to pick that tiny little world of mine back up and hold it, even when I thought it was impossible.