We might moan about maths at school, but we adults like facts and figures. We like to record how long things take, how much they cost, how long it takes to get to a destination, how many people attended an event. Often, this data is useful. It provides us with objective information, quantifiable answers. But it’s not the whole story, or even, in my view, the most important part of it.
My team at The Princess Project are in the middle of running a parenting course. I was telling someone about it on Sunday at church. Can you guess the first question she asked me?
“How many people are coming along to the course?”
“Oh….well, there’ll probably be more next time!”
There’s nothing wrong with what this lovely lady said- she was being genuinely interested, and to be honest I would probably have asked the same thing. But I confess it got my hackles up a little and put me on the defensive. Why? Because the assumption was that the success of the course could only be measured by attendance figures, and I know that isn’t the case. I know that getting five young mums along to a parenting course for four weeks on the trot with children in tow is no mean feat. As I get to know each of these mums individually I am seeing the impact that a little support and encouragement of their parenting skills is making. We could be running a course attended by fifty parents but if no lives were being affected by what they were learning, it would be pointless. If they were to be there in body but not engaged, the effect would be minimal.
This led me to ponder where else this principle of quality rather than quantity might be applied. At work, for example, I know that a few, committed, loyal clients are worth more to the business than several unbonded clients who shop around for the best deal.
At home, how I spend my time was what immediately sprang to mind- specifically, time I spend with my children. I might spend an hour in the same room as them, listening to them with one ear and halfheartedly interacting with them, priding myself on the ability to cook dinner, referee the bickering and comment on their latest masterpiece simultaneously, but wouldn’t even five minutes of undivided attention be better? No TV, no phone, no tablet, no Twitter, no chores, just Mummy all to themselves?
And what about the time I spend with God? Perhaps ten minutes of focused attention and wholehearted reading, praying, or simply being still and listening is more meaningful than an hour-long quiet time with brain and heart disengaged, and me unchanged and unchallenged afterwards.
I think that the inevitable focus on data, statistics, and numbers is one of the reasons that I find writing grant applications so difficult. I understand that funders need quantifiable data and measurable outcomes. But I am convinced that some of the most important things in life can’t be quantified. I would argue that the question we should be asking is not ‘How many?’ or ‘How much?’ or ‘How long?’ but ‘What difference is it making?’