The Qualms About Quantity

A memory from college that resurfaces every so often is a conversation I had with a stranger. I was on my way to the airport after completing my last final of the semester, engaging in casual conversation with a taxi driver.

“What’s your major?” she asked, politely.

“English.”

The woman laughed. “You must not like making money then!”

Reading is discredited. Analyzing literature is regarded as an art rather than a tool. Writing is categorized as a hobby. What I consider my passion, society considers a leisure. I spent my undergraduate career defending my major and trying to convince my peers that words carry innumerable value in a number-obsessed society. The unbreakable habit of our species is to quantify whenever possible. To “learn” about new people, we instinctively ask:

“How much does she weigh?”

“How much money does he make?”

“How many cars are parked in her driveway?”

“How old is he?”

We crave quantity. When we are asked what our name is, our response is rarely remembered. When we ask how someone is doing, we anticipate hearing back the insincere default answer: “Good.” As a society we have instilled so much value in numbers as a method of understanding people that if we face someone or something we can’t quantify, we don’t care.

Although not quantifiable, stories — and specifically, words — carry immense value. While calculators and computers are [from a historical standpoint] relatively new, stories have transcended time. From cave paintings to hieroglyphics to our familiar linear novels, stories and language have been unifying forces between civilizations, families and neighbors. Stories are powerful because they allow us to exercise empathy and experience a wide range of emotion that we could not otherwise feel. Through reading we can better understand the human condition, and it is this learned empathy that ultimately makes us more human. Literature has built me a critical lens in which to holistically view the world.

Whether you love to read or haven’t picked up a book in months, I hope you find value in what you put your energy towards every day — even if it’s not deemed “practical”. As my college degree becomes more and more irrelevant, instead of being discouraged by the negative stigma surrounding my “hobbies” I know that although I may not be living practically, I’m living purposefully.


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