A New Math

It was 1955 when on one day the Second Grade teacher gave a unique lesson to her class. For some of the students, it was a Life lesson. For others, the words were recognizable but the meaning of them was like a foreign language.



Her lecture didn’t come from a textbook. It came from her heart and a desire to feel she had encouraged her young charges to strive for excellence in every aspect of their lives.

It’s difficult to remember when she addressed the fact that her class was comprised of children of color. That fact was conveyed, however, in order for them to understand the importance of the information, especially for them. It was about learning a “new math.” It was about learning how to calculate one’s worth both in reality as well as in terms of how the rest of the world evaluates one’s worth.

Paraphrasing in order to compensate for the passage of time, she counseled, “When you go into the world and are competing against [White people], remember: you need to be three times better in order to be considered half as good.”

In other words, the world as her students interacted with it in any way would find them lacking and unqualified. In order to rise above being shut out of admission to the race for attainment, in order to be accepted and receive the deserved (earned) position, it would be necessary to make certain their skills and abilities were superlative, above reproach, and undeniably three times better than anyone else vying for the same brass ring. She was also telling them to be so overwhelmingly prepared that they could venture into any place and feel confident that they were among the best striving for the same situation. It wasn’t necessary to be embarrassed in any way. The main task was to perform well and thereby bring merit to the work that was done.

Did she tell her novices that in everything they did they were representatives of not only their school and families but also of their racial identity? No. That lesson was for another day and from another teacher. The fact of their ambassadorship was already an unspoken factor in their existence. It was part of why their parents scolded and chided when something about them didn’t measure up to the socially acceptable standard.

It was important to have that lesson in those early years so that it became part of their psyche. It was supposed to become the driving force for those young minds. She wanted all of them to strive to earn more than 90% on each of their tests. She wanted them to absorb all of the knowledge available and then use that knowledge to reach for even greater accomplishments. With that, it would be possible to develop new ideas and techniques. They would be burgeoning founders of many innovations, examples to others of the good work that could be expected of them, as well as those who would be known as “first”s to achieve.

Humility was not part of the lesson that day. Perhaps the talk about humility wasn’t necessary. Perhaps, that also was a lesson for another day and from another teacher. After all, it was a classroom of young coloreds. Being subservient was part of one’s expected deportment no matter where they were. But they were also expected to have dignity, self esteem. Those characteristics did not need apology; they were expected as part of the embodiment of any healthy personality. Dignity, or self esteem, was a quality that came from within and accompanied everything that was done, from the trivial to the grand, and as part of any task that was being performed in any position. Being, even feeling, servile simply was not part of the formula in execution. Being excellent was simply a part of their identity; conversation about it was unnecessary.

That lesson never happened again in any form. There was only one lecture about the new math nor about any related subjects. For some, the lesson was indelible. For others, some of that lesson in foreign language seeped in later comprehension. That was 1955. The landscape has changed. There are more of the coloreds who are allowed to vie for opportunities. A larger percentage of those who dare are not only pushing their way through the door to positions other than in the servile range. The number of those who are of color in leadership positions are no longer the exceptions. We expect them to have all the characteristics that are part of being a leader. If lacking in any of them, the representative is allowed to linger until a suitable replacement is identified and installed. It is a death knell to have less than the best as part of the overall framework.

The Door of Opportunity is now being opened more frequently to those of color. There are times when the formula for that new math is forgotten and the struggle to prevent the Door from closing must begin anew. That’s the danger of forgetting the new math. Now what was that formula again? Let’s see. “3 x 1 = 1/2”. No, it isn’t about inflated ego; it’s actualization of the survival of the fittest in terms of achievement.

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Miracle Worker – Out of Business

For a long time, people using the Internet thought that there was some type of silver bullet that would dramatically change how we do business. In the twinkling of an eye, in the flash of a second, a cataclysmic event would occur and millions upon billions of dollars of profits would happen overnight for each and every person who turned away from their 9 to 5 jobs and ventured forth with their entrepreneurial ideas turned endeavors. All it took was a little more tweak here or a minor adjustment there, optimizing your settings in just the right way for the search engines. Then all of those other pickle-brained ideas that others hatched (and many followed) would be shattered because this new way of tweaking and adjusting outdid the rest. Besides that, it was free and we got to reap all of the cash profits!

Then the year 2000 happened. That was also the year that the Internet bust happened. People learned there was a tomorrow that was demanding payment. No payment? No dollars? Then you’re out of business. Not only that, if you’re not in business and you’re no longer working, and you’ve invested everything you had into one of those fly-by-night Internet start-ups. Being part of that crowd meant you were also history.

Well, we’re still recovering from The Bust. But we still haven’t learned the ultimate lesson from it. Free just doesn’t work. There are a few exceptions. I call them miracle workers and it appears the better title for them would be “Rats” as in those who have traits of individuals born in the Year of the Rat — resourceful, industrious, turning negligible scraps into incremental opportunities built upon one another until reaching success. These are the people who seem to walk on water, defy gravity, and simply make the impossible happen. Just another minor miracle

The other lesson to learn from The Bust is that barter or exchange does work. Still, we keep feeling as though “free” is the way and any kind of “free” is great because there’s no price tag. Not everyone can survive this. Actually, it’s only an appearance that there’s no price on what’s done or received. Ultimately, we all must pay the piper in some way. Resources stretched too far for too long can exact severe tolls on various things that are extremely dear to us.

The layman’s term for this state is “burnout.” The creativity, the resilience, the cleverness are gone. They could be reignited with some difficulty. Even then, the flame has a short wick and quickly flames out again. Positive traits are replaced with fatigue, tension, biting remarks. There’s only so long that it can continue — the drudgery of coming up with alternatives that will compensate for no pay. There’s only so long that things that should come with a dollars and cents price tag can be skirted or parlayed into barter or substitutes used to make the product. Yet it appears no one, absolutely none of the partakers have any appreciation of the effort that went into producing the deliverable. They seem to only hunger for more and more and more for free.

Then there’s the competition that will layer on demands and encourage requests for more from feigned and legitimate supporters. The goal is to deplete, to devastate, to empty everything and thereby eliminate the competitor. Meanwhile, notes are taken to determine what seems to be popular and what works. Then duplicate while also setting up roadblocks for the competitor until they simply drop.

The answer to the miracle worker syndrome is to not do it too long, too often. The answer is also to find a means of being compensated for the deliverable. Even a token payment is better than constant free. Constant free is the same as being taken for granted. It’s the same as being taken.

Don’t let this be your status. The tactics of your competition are illegal and you are complicit in your defeat. Shutter up this madness called “free.” Offer samples, offer two with the second for a percentage off, offer exchanges. But get rid of “free.”

Additionally, hang a sign outside your door that reads

Miracle Worker – Out of Business

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