You mean these equations actually mean something?

By Kim Hartman

When referring to math, I’ve heard the sentence so many times it hurts: “I’m never going to use this in life.” I’ve always been confused as to why the phrase became so popular, since math has always applied to my life.

Sure, I probably won’t ever be solving geometric proofs or finding derivatives in my life, but neither will I be writing in iambic pentameter or need to know the elements on the periodic table. Once I leave college, I won’t ever write a company case study, do literary critiques on classic novelists or remember the capitals of tiny countries on the other side of the globe. So why has math been singled out as “the useless subject?”

Maybe it’s because a lot of people don’t view it as a three-dimensional subject, which opposes everything I believe math to be. Although I’ll never be an engineer, rocket scientist or accountant, the subject has always meant something to me. Besides using math to calculate the standard 16 percent tip at a restaurant or balance a checkbook, the benefits of math have reached beyond the numbers themselves. To prove my devotion, I’m a communication major who has been a math tutor for over three years and taken five math classes voluntarily.

Not only has math showed me how to analyze the most complicated situations and solve the most complex problems in life, but it has also taught me one of the most important lessons I could ever learn — there are multiple ways to come to the correct answer. For instance, if one couple gets married after six days, and another gets married after six years, does it matter if they are both happily married? Whether love is instantaneous or gradual, it’s still love.

In both math and life, mistakes will be made, either by a careless error in judgment or by the problem itself just being too challenging. Sometimes you’ll have to consult with other resources, may it be a protractor or a friend, to get the answer. A wrong answer can be changed to a right answer with a little work, whether it’s with a pencil or an apology. There’s always a solution to every problem, even if that solution is undefined. And where else will you find a room full of people who are all genuinely working towards the same solution?

Math also demonstrates equality. In algebra, whatever you do to one side, you have to do to the other. Sometimes there’s only one variable to solve for, while at other times, there will be more. You have to decide which formula to use for which circumstance. A person will probably act differently at work than at home, as well as differently around a teacher than a best friend.

In addition (no pun intended), in order to solve for unknown answers, one must use what is already known. For example, using your knowledge, character and insight to land that job, lover or friend of your dreams. You can correct past mistakes in order to have a better future.

In business math, I learned a great representation of compromise in relationships. When two or more inequalities (or people) are graphed, the area where they overlap (or agree) is called the feasible region. An answer isn’t valid unless it’s within that feasible region. In other words, an answer will only be acceptable if everyone agrees on it. This business math example encourages finding common ground with other people. It’s the colliding of many different prerogatives, viewpoints and personalities into something that is truly right.

Math, in its truest essence, is not just the study of how to think deeper but how to think better. To me, math will never be merely a shallow practice of crunching numbers and equations. It’s about questioning and analyzing, introspection and insight, identifying patterns, making clear associations, setting realistic boundaries and finding relationships in unique places. It’s about paying attention to detail without missing the main point. Math is pure, free from ambiguity and free from subjectivity of the most critical teacher’s eye. No matter what, a right angle is always going to equal 90 degrees.

Let me clarify. It’s not like the calculator is going to replace the cross around my neck. What I’m offering is the idea that math has the potential to teach us some important lessons about life, if we look a little deeper. And if you don’t agree, that’s OK. After all, there are a lot of ways to find x.

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