Absolute versus Relative
It was in standard VI that I was introduced to the concept of Absolute value of an Integer. Regardless of whether an integer lies on the left or right side of Zero on the number line, it retains only its numerical value by discarding its positive or negative sign.
In the following years, as I kept adding more school years to my education history, I kept getting drawn to the question “what is my absolute value ?” Very much like an integer, I keenly looked beyond my gender, size (I could not avoid the unwelcoming eyes when I got on to the basketball court for try outs) and grades to search an answer to this simple question.
Indian schools can be very exacting not merely due to the rigorous curriculum which comes with a full swing from standard 5 when full length written exams begin but more due to the relative performances that they end up extracting. This approach takes students away from their absolute values and push them to a comparative number line. I was determined to find a way not to fall prey to this system. I was not looking to find an escape route to justify my performance but it was my way to search for the answer to the question that was gaining higher decibels in my head.
As I look back today and replay the event, I believe that the moment of getting pushed to answer the question was staring in my face when I was handed back the answer sheet of an exam in standard VII. I counted and recounted my marks and then went up to my teacher to tell her that there was a mistake in the calculation. I told her that there was an extra mark in the total. She gave me a puzzled look and made the correction. By the time I reached my desk, she called me again and asked me to bring the school diary. Last few pages are meant for teacher remarks and I came back home that day with a very encouraging note from my teacher. My mother tells me that there was a silent celebration in my parents’ heart for what I had done that day. Similar events happened a few more times in the following years but nobody in my family keeps count of it as obvious expectation is the consistency in my behaviour as against keeping a count.
This event provided me the Absolute compass to find my route. I discovered that I can chase performance as an absolute goal rather than beating someone else. Some would argue that this diminishes the spirit of competition but I claim that as long as one is true to oneself about defining the goal and brings sincerity in the process of achieving it the outcome is very satisfying.
By removing the self-imposed burden of relative benchmarking against my peers, I discovered two collateral benefits – transparent friendships and the required compassion to help. I have always felt that it takes courage for a person to ask for help especially in the judgemental environment that high school students operate in and by offering unmotivated assistance I have merely shown respect to their gesture.
I do not see myself as honest because I was told to be so in my moral science class; I do not wish to be transparent in my friendships because this would allow me to keep friends and I certainly do not see myself as a compassionate individual because privileged should show such feelings toward the less privileged ones.
I have gained the clarity that I am being guided by my organic self. I want to preserve it. This is me. And this is my absolute value.
The next thing I am working on ? First principle of multiplication. Can my whole be greater than the sum of my parts ?