A week or so ago I became engaged in a short discussion involving the use of statistics.
My disclaimer at this point is to say that there was a very good reason I chose to study the arts and not mathematics and science, which of course are also fundamental to knowledge and to the health of any culture. I admire the mathematicians and truly dedicated scientists but I just don’t have the chops to go there in my right brained mind.
My eyes glaze over when I look at statistics and experiments. Where I connect is when I see how it all relates to humanity, and I can get really excited over new discoveries about the universe based on the hard work of these brilliant minds. But let’s get back to the subject of statistics.
Being an oddball from birth, I have experienced that statistical information can be nearly irrelevant to those of us who are far off the average point on a chart. Demographics are “the quantifiable statistics of human population” according to Wikipedia and are meant to give a snapshot of an identified subset. Well, I’m afraid I have a wee problem when the snapshot is not used as intended, which is to say that it is used to manipulate rather than inform.
Here’s where I sense things go off the rails. I know all about the mythical “average person” and that in a group large or small, there is only one average person and all the rest are either to the right or to the left on the chart. I get that. I also get that we need to identify general needs and wants of a population. Successful community visioning depends on such information gathering and consultation. Where I become very uncomfortable is when demographics can evolve into a dehumanizing tool to oversimplify and restrict the potential of valuable members of such a demographic.
Exclusion can be a result of this process and can be deadly to the vitality and heart of a community.
One of the fundamental reasons I value Princeton is that we have managed to accommodate many legitimate views in most cases without exclusion or restriction. We are remarkably strengthened by the empathy we feel for our exceptional folks who reciprocate by sharing their joy. We have spats with folks of opposing ideas, certainly, but in the end, we all breathe the same air and when it counts, we pull together with one mind and one heart.
Do you remember the grief we all shared when we lost Cindy Parolin, or when the two abandoned babies were discovered at Allison Lake Campground? Remember the way the entire community pulled together during the flood of 1994 or the fires in 2001? And can you still feel the exhilaration we felt when we were chosen as the BC town having the most community spirit during the 2010 Olympics?
How on earth could we fit our diverse views and our unusual people into a list of statistics without naming the characteristics of kindness, helpfulness, enthusiasm, joy, creativity, leadership and wisdom? These are the things that matter. They give a detailed portrait rather than a snapshot of who we are. Because these characteristics are not easily quantified, they are missed when a community is evaluated by statistics.
Our history and our strength of character are what make us who we are. Let us never forget that.