Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Volume 2, Number 12: Right and Wrong

(Note: This is a re-posting of an entry I made in March or April of 2007 on a Yahoo! GeoCities blog.)

While at work one day, it dawned on me why I was so much better in certain subjects (like math and grammar) than at others (like reading and social studies) in school. With math, there is generally only one right answer for a given problem; it is not "subject to interpretation" like with, say, most English or social studies courses. Two plus two will always equal four; it will not be seven if it's Thursday or five if the President is Republican. Spelling, grammar, science classes and trivia games are other matters where there is only one right answer.

This "right answer" mentality may have been hard-wired into my brain in childhood. I particularly recall two very unpleasant incidents in first grade when my teacher would not allow me to go to gym class or science class until I got a particular assignment right. One was a math assignment (I somehow had difficulty learning that adding zero to a number yielded that same number, so I kept putting down stuff like 0 + 7 = 0), the other was an assignment that involved making a rhyme (I mistakenly thought all I had to do was make put two words that rhyme together, but the teacher wanted me to put together two sentences that rhyme). Whatever it was that I wanted to go to, I missed on both occasions.

These incidents helped form the following mentality: Do anything wrong, and people will hold back or take away stuff from you (meaning stuff in school like going to gym class, or stuff at home like TV and dessert). Indeed, after completing a personality test with Aquent a couple of weeks ago, my staffing manager told me about the results, which said that I am a stickler for getting everything right. And I admit, I hate being told I'm wrong. (Also, I get ticked off at grammatical errors that I see on the Internet, stuff like "it's" where "its" should be used, because these are supposedly professional adults making errors that a third-grader shouldn't make.)

It might also explain why I intently memorized stuff--I developed the need to have the "right answer" already in my head, and later, the need to have as many "right answers" as possible.

When I went into second grade, we started having reading classes (you know, where you read some short story from some textbook and have to answer some questions at the end). Reading classes always gave me headaches because often, the stories were about things that I was too young and/or inexperienced to relate to. I also thought that I'd have an easier time understanding a story if it came in the form of a TV show or a movie (I realize now that this was utter fallacy because I had attention deficit disorder; even movies would be hard to follow if the plot was complex enough).

I find it easier to look for that absolute "right answer" than to answer a "free response"-type question. Anytime there is something to be debated, I tend not to speak my mind unless I am absolutely sure that what I have to say is either more "correct" than anything else I've heard, or is something I'm sure might not have occurred to anyone else involved in the discussion.

Two more made-up words that I came up with years ago, but only recently have remembered to put in this blog:

Americentrism - The belief that everything revolves around the United States of America. An example of how I use the word: "How can the St. Louis Cardinals call themselves World Champions? That's Americentrism. Seeing as Japan won the World Baseball Classic and the Nippon Ham Fighters won the Japan Series, the Cardinals and the Ham Fighters should have a series to decide who the real World Champions are. Until then, the Cardinals can be, well, North American Champions."

Scientificized - What happens when something that normally doesn't get much analysis ends up being taken apart and looked at a million different ways. A fine example is sports. A hundred years ago, baseball teams were measured by little more than wins and losses. Now, players at every position are measured on a number of different statistics and metrics, some of which are created from complex formulas (Bill James' "runs created" is a fine example of this). My best-known use of the word comes from my argument for why it sucks to have the pitcher go to bat in the National League: "The game has been so scientificized that pitchers can't do anything but work on pitching. As a result, they develop their pitching muscles more, and whatever muscles they need for hitting, those are developed less, which makes for a lousy hitter. So why should the pitcher even bat at all?"

Here's a pet peeve of mine: Magazine subcription cards, especially when they appear in magazines I already subscribe to. I mean, it's like being asked to do something you're already doing, plus it's a waste of paper. Also, if a friend of mine wanted to subscribe to my magazine, he wouldn't use the card (which could get lost in the mail); he'd probably order the subscription through the magazine's web site. Maybe I'm naive, but it seems to me the publishers could save some money by not printing these cards.

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