Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Day in the Life

If you've known me for any substantive period of time you probably know that I'm obsessed with numbers and statistics.  Whether it's obsessing over a poll and its crosstabs, reciting off electoral vote counts like it's my job, or breaking down the finer points of the NFL's quarterback rating system (completion % - 30 x .05, yds/att - 3 x .25, TD passes/att x .2, 2.375 - INT's/att x .25, sum and multiply by 16 2/3 after adjusting any individual value less than zero to 0 and any greater than 2.375 to 2.375), I live and love anything numerical.  If I can put a number or value onto something, you can safely assume I will.

It takes a lot longer for one to get to know my more morbid side.  My morbidity is not an obsession with death: it's a fascination with existence and, more to the point, the absence of existence.  Where most scholars of history would ask a question like "what if Hitler died in the Valkyrie bomb plot" I wonder what if Hitler vanished the day of Valkyrie.  One day Hitler is the head of Nazi Germany, the next he's simply gone: no murder, no death, no investigations or retributions or even curiosity: the world simply goes on as if nothing has happened or is different.  That conception of existence and awareness intrigues me and it's an idea I constantly ponder over.

It's rare for me to be able to combine these two aspects of my mental framework, but one exercise of mine does just that.  It's a way in which I can place a quantity onto my own existence that I feel gives me a stronger indication of my own life's success and relevance.  This mental game is the question of how many other lives would be substantively different in my own absence.  As with the above history hypothetical it's not a question about death, but one of non-existence without any conscious recognition.

To me the well-lived, well-purposed live touches the lives of others in positive ways.  Sometimes it's in an overt way, but far more often it happens in a way easily overlooked, a way that, when absent, leaves a certain void that can't quite be described or identified.  Those little connections and impacts make this analysis admittedly difficult (it's so easy to undervalue or overlook the little moments in one's day that have meaning), but it's still an exercise of value to me.  The goal is simple: to increase this number as much as possible whenever possible.

Thus whenever this number declines it becomes cause for concern.  It tells me my life has entered a rut, or worse is in a decline.  It's a decline I've noticed recently.  When I look around at life and ask the question of how I'm impacting things for the better I find smaller and smaller numbers in my results.  I'm left to wonder where the relevance and impact of my own existence has gone.  It tells me I need to regroup and reload: find the things I should be doing and ways I should be making the world better but am not.

It's at this point in the process that I tend to wind up stuck: the application.  Applying this is not a number or a formula, it's an action or series of actions.  Sometimes the answer is so obvious even I can figure it out.  Too often it's an undefined answer, or one that's more difficult than I would like.  Making an impact can often be about the smallest of things, but it's far more tempting and appealing to focus on the large, overarching ideas and possibilities that would seem to have far more value but often do not.

As Socrates said from Plato's apology, the unexamined life is not worth living.  I am not writing to necessarily encourage my own way of analysis, as one who does not seek to assign a number to everything as I do likely would not benefit from such a way of analyzing.  But I do encourage everyone to find time now and again to step back from the breakneck pace of the world and ask where you are in your life, your goals, and your impact on the world around you.  The answers to these questions can guide your path going forward in unexpected ways.

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