As we head into the New Year, I am concerned with the over-use of the word absolutely these days. It just seems to be everywhere. Radio and television talk-show hosts throw it around as if it proves their point. Media guests respond with firm “Absolutely!” when their host confirms that he or she shares his or her opinion. But we are tossing around a concept that is far too important for the giddy way it has been used, since absolute has positive and negative characteristics.
Absolute is both a scientific and social term, both proven by research, both requiring validity, and both somewhat removed from the emotional exclamation “Absolutely!” some are fond of. Mathematically, absolute means “complete, measurable, real and quantitative” (1). Socially, absolute is “an important goal: as close to complete, perfect, consummate, and faultless as humanly possible” (2).
Here is a short and fast list of science’s absolutes:
Absolute value (Mathematics) describes the distance of a number on the number line from 0 without considering which direction from zero the number lies. The absolute value of a number is never negative (3).
Absolute zero (Chemistry) is the point where no more heat can be removed from a system, according to the absolute or thermodynamic temperature scale (4).
Absolute location (Geography) is the definitive location of a place using a recognized coordinate system (5).
Absolute equation (Astronomy) is the sum of the optic and eccentric equations (6).
Absolute temperature (Physics), the temperature as measured on a scale determined by certain general thermo-dynamic principles, and reckoned from the absolute zero (7).
Absolute space (Physics) is space considered without relation to material limits or objects (8).
Absolute terms (Algebra) are known terms which do not contain an unknown quantity (9).
Absolute alcohol (Chemistry) means pure and unmixed (10) (not to be confused with Absolut, which does a pretty good vodka business).
Here are definitions of the social quantifying of absolute:
Absolute perfection is opposed to relativity (11).
Absolute beauty is without comparison (12).
Absolute truth is unconditioned and non-relative. It is the opposite of relative truth, which is perceived through comparison (13).
Absolute promise or command has no modifying influences and is without comparison (14).
Absolute authority, monarchy, sovereignty or power (or absolute monarch) is described as authority free from any limitation or condition, and it is uncontrolled, unrestricted, and unconditional (15) (sounds rather Dark Ages, doesn’t it?).
Absolute’s social synonyms sound wholesome enough: “positive, certain, unconditional and authoritative” (16). But absolute also means “unlimited, unrestricted, unqualified, arbitrary, despotic, peremptory, and autocratic” (17). Socially, then, absolutes are more about importance, the term for measurements relative to human trends.
Having two degrees in Science, I think in terms of input and outcomes that are measurable, and therefore, provable. In social science, we prove absolutes, or importance, by significance. Significance is another mathematical term, using statistics for its validity (18). Because human nature is not scientific and our collective opinion can fluctuate due to changes of circumstance or by whim, social statistics build-in a percentage of error for a safety net. Enter the bell curve.
I love the bell curve. When a population is located within the bell curve, that number is statistically significant: a large, positive number with a negative out-lier population in quantity so small it is considered to be utterly unimportant (19). It is wise to consider that outliers can cause great social disturbance if given too much credibility.
The bell curve reminds us to pay attention to significance. There is no absolute, or perfection, in the bell curve. It is a collection of a majority; of significance. Significance is not absolute; significance is more a human concept. In this age of technology, we can lose the beauty of the human element by expecting absolutes. Losing our humanity would be the great tragedy of this era of time, and doom us to a life found in a bad sci-fi film. So behind my objection to responding “Absolutely!” to a question regarding an opinion is the dilution of meaning of something as strong as absolute. Are we “absolutely sure” or “absolutely certain”, or is it just a “best-guess”? “Absolutely!” is a crystallized answer implying that something is clear, certain—and without doubt—true.
What’s true in older age is really true in younger age; people just don’t tend to see aging truths until they approach somewhat older age themselves. “Older age” is also relative to the person doing the aging. More and more, younger people are paying attention to the principles of success in aging. When we realize the significance (mathematically speaking) of taking positive steps now to have a good older age later, we can put our New Year’s resolutions into real action. What we do in 2011 and beyond will build better tomorrows for our children and certainly for ourselves. We will teach by example (and, hopefully, have some good face-to-face conversations, too) when we make wise physical, financial, and personal decisions for our own older age.
My hope is that the professionals we turn to for truth and fair assessment will use the term absolutely less frequently and with more objective scrutiny. We sell ourselves too many products and services to assume perfection. This is a call to prove what is worthy of our time, talent and resources so that they don’t slip away unnoticed… Absolutely not!
I do, however, want to wish YOU an absolutely wonderful New Year!
© 2010 Diane Alexander Patterson, MSG, CPG “If good real estate is about location, location, location, then ‘success in aging’ is about attitude, attitude, attitude!” www.SeasonofLife.net