Monday, November 16, 2009

| Be Positive! |

A few weeks ago I overheard our math tutor telling Michael that 9 minus 32 equals positive 23. Now, the reason we have a math tutor is because I do not do math. But hoo boy, I sure as heck know that 9 minus 32 is most certainly not positive 23.

I stuck my head in the room and saw this on the board: | 9-32 | Normally I try to stay out of the school room when math’s going on but I couldn’t help myself. I asked our tutor, “What is with that! How can it be positive?”

Our tutor, Sheri, knows my mathematical limitations and patiently explained that they were discussing absolute value. Apparently those two little lines around the numbers make the answer positive. “So,” I queried, “any time you put those lines around a problem the answer will always be positive?” “Basically, yes,” she said. I could tell she was deciding whether or not to go into greater detail so I hightailed it out of there. "Be positive" was enough for me!

Well, let me tell you, I am positive I never learned that in math class because I would have remembered two such magical lines. “From now on,” I said, “I think I’m going to hold up my hands on the side of my face and say, ‘Stay positive!’” Ah, there’s nothing like math humor…

For the last two weeks I’ve been doing my little absolute value hand thing anytime someone looked a bit glum or I needed to encourage a positive attitude in my charges. I was having a positively marvelous time with my newfound bit of math knowledge. That was until I talked about it with a group of college students who were over for dinner.

Twice a month we host these students, who serve in leadership positions with our church’s college outreach. Our group of seven is eclectic to say the least; one is in PR, another in animal sciences and someone else is in education. And then there’s Mike, who’s majoring in a math/science-related field - I want to say biochemistry. He and my mechanical engineering major husband have gotten along fabulously, talking all about math and science and that stuff I generally ignore. But with my newfound absolute value knowledge and the nifty hand motions that go with it I felt I had something to add to the discussion.

After I gave my spiel on absolute value and demonstrated my hand motions, Mike said, “Um, yeah, that’s true that the numbers are positive but it doesn’t mean the numbers are positive.” My spirits were sinking. He continued, “What absolute value really describes is the distance of the number away from zero. And since distance can’t be negative, you get a positive number.”

“But the number is positive, right?” I asked, desperate not to lose my fun little hand motions and motivational phrase, “Be positive!”

Mike, who, from all I can tell, is a great guy, must have sensed he’d become the killer of joy because he quickly backtracked, “Oh, yes! It’s positive! Your hand motions still work.”

I knew he wasn’t being totally honest, and later that night Sean explained the concept which I do, amazingly enough, understand. But I’m not letting those facts get in the way of my very fun new hand motions. When someone looks a little worn out or gets a bit whiny I’m still going to put both hands on the side of my face and say, “Be positive!”