About Math Teachers, Pygmy Goat Farmers, and the Bottom Line.

Im terribly inefficient at doing math problems in my head. I am just mentally finishing with the first “carry the one” when someone across the room blurts out the answer. So, when I would tell people that we were at 64% of our support-raising goal and we had about $2900 per month left to raise, I never expected that people would do the math in their head. I thought I was giving them the uncrackable code that assured I’d be able to communicate our remaining need without divulging the total that we had to raise.

But alas, I started to notice a pattern when I’d give the percentage/remaining statement: people would glaze over, and enter that magical land where math problems are performed, just long enough to not hear me say “but that’s not my salary alone–that doesn’t account for taxes or ministry expenses or medical/dental/vision benefits or pension or a 12% administrative fee on every check, among other things…” and then they’d emerge from magical math-land clutching the coveted monthly total, with no regard for how to apply it.

So I’m sorry if I communicated that we make $98,000 per year. Because we make that about every 3 years. And it’s your middle school math teacher’s fault that you had to stay in math-land so long that you didn’t hear my breakdown. Or perhaps if your math teacher hadn’t gone to such great lengths to make math problems fun, you’d have done like me and just glazed over during the initial numbers to avoid tempting your brain to attempt the problem in the first place. Either way, I’m blaming math teachers everywhere.

I finally figured out that you had to mishclaim the whole thing before you came right out with percentages and dollar amounts.

Sometimes I considered adding things that sounded ambiguous–but believable enough not to be questioned–to that particular mischlaimer. The more things you can lump into the “not salary” portion of the monthly total, the better. If you ever find yourself in need of fake things to stuff into a cost breakdown, and have less integrity than me (I never get enough credit for humility), here’s a few pro tips:

Utilize things with percentages, but never go above 6.7%

The problem with getting above 6.7% is that it makes it far too easy to tell when you’ve breached 100 percent. if you’ve got six or seven things in a row at or below 2.3%, pretty soon your listener is just going to lose count. And then you are in the clear.

The reason you want to liberally apply percentages when possible? It makes you sound correct. Nobody in their right mind would toss out the fact that 1.4% of the money they raise goes directly to a disenfranchised pygmy goat farmer in Bangladesh, unless they were correct, right? Who even knows what “disenfranchised” means?

Proximity is not your friend.

That brings me to my next point. If I already knew from conversation that the person with whom I am mishclaiming has relatives in Bangladesh, I’d never use the above-made-up pygmy goat reference. Because then you are stuck answering the trifecta of lie-detection questions. (1)”Oh, where in Bangladesh?” (2) “What’s His name?” and (3) “How long has he been there?” Go ahead and try to make up the name of a city in Bangladesh, a traditional Bangladeshi name, and an appropriate number of years to be in pygmy goat farming, on the fly. I thought not. You want to try as hard as you can to avoid the same hemisphere of people within one degree of separation from this person. Don’t ever mishclaim Kevin Bacon, for that reason.

Use Big/Spiritual Words.

I capitalized all the proximal letters in this, it’s that important. Nobody knows what disenfranchised means, they just know that it sounds about right in my pygmy goat sentence. That’s key. You are gonna want to work out of your strengths here. If you have a biology degree, you might want to sprinkle in words like “mitosis” and “endoplasmic reticulum” anywhere you see an opportunity. More into theology proper? You can’t go wrong with “transubstantiation” or “monergism.” And the following prefixes will render even the most definable words useless: “Pre-, Post-, Pseudo-, Quasi-,” Give those a shot. Nothing like saying “The other 2.3% goes to research into post-dispensational pseudo-reformed pre-missional hermeneutic for college ministry.” Who is going to ask a question about that? You’re good to go.

Now for some community participation. I’ve confessed being the slow kid in math, growing up. What was your worst subject, and why? Chime in in the comments.

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