Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's okay to be incredibly rude if you hate math

Image source.

You do not know how many times I've told people "I'm a math major" and then they say "I hate math."

Really?  Really?  Okay, tell me what you love, tell me what makes you happy, tell me what you dedicate time and energy to- guess what, I hate all those things.  I hate everything you think is good in the world.  I wish everything you love would just die and remove its foul existence from the face of the earth.

Well, not really.  I don't actually hate all that stuff, it's just that I'm so angry that I'm trying to come up with something equally offensive to say.

Why is it socially acceptable in American culture to proclaim one's hatred of math and be proud of it?  Seriously?  Especially right after I say I'm a math major.  If you think about this for a fraction of a second you'll see it's unbelievably rude and offensive.

Everyone's entitled to hate stuff, you know, as a basic human right.  But we know that in civilized society you don't go around telling people you hate things that are very important to them.

Especially to people you've just met.  Geez.

And I've heard this excuse: "oh, they meant it as a compliment, they're trying to say you're way smarter than them."  People need to go learn what a compliment is, because you're doing it wrong.

What do you want me to say?  How am I supposed to respond- because my reflex response is to find something they like and insult it.  I guess the polite thing to do is tell them that's incredibly offensive and makes me very angry, and that it's not okay to say that.

But seriously.  How is it this an accepted thing in our culture?


  1. Exactly. People are ashamed when they don't know how to read, but not when they don't know how to do mental math.

    I try not to give people the chance to say that they hate/are bad at/had a bad experience with math. Because I think when people say that, what they really mean is "I don't understand why, how someone would study math, much less major in it."

    Sometimes, I say, "I study math, and lately I've been thinking about _________" or "I study math, and I think ______ is really cool".

    But other times, I just say, "I don't want to talk about it" and walk away.

  2. Thanks for the article.

    My usual response when people tell me they hate my major is to say (very enthusiastically), "Oh, well, I love it," and sometimes tack on "passionately" or another modifier to demonstrate my point. And I leave it at that. (Although I study chemistry instead of math, I've had similar experiences).

  3. I think for some people there might be an extra layer to this - not one that excuses their behavior, but maybe one that explains it. I know at least 2 other people who have the same reaction I do for the same reason, so I wanted to offer a possible alternative.

    I do hate math. But I hate it not in and of itself. I just hate it because I am truly, truly bad at it. Like to the point that it's possible I have a math-related learning disability, though I worked hard enough to just barely get through the math required for my education. Every time I think of doing math, I remember the hours of homework for what I was assured were simple problems and crying and crying because I just didn't get it, no matter how hard I tried. I was a smart kid who loved to learn almost anything, but math was the one thing that made me hate school and, frequently, hate myself.

    When people tell me they love math or major in math, I do have the decency and common sense to not instantly say, "I hate math," but nor can I really offer them much more than an, "Oh, that's cool," and then a subject change, because anything I have to say about my own experience with math *will* be a negative one, and if I listen to them talk about *their* experience with it, it just makes me feel dumber and dumber.

    Math is one of those things that everybody is required to do at some point and many people find it frustratingly difficult. For me, if I were to say "I hate math" or something similar to a math major, the subtext is really "PLEASE DON'T MAKE ME DO MATH WITH YOU I WILL CRY."

    I think a lot of people have been in that same boat, where math is intrinsically tied in their minds to disappointment, poor performance, and feeling dumb. Obviously that's not the case with everyone and some people are just rude. And, like I said, I *don't* run around saying that to people who like math... but I can totally see myself doing that when I was younger, less conscious of other's feelings, and when all those negative experiences were fresher in my mind.

    (On a lighter note, I've run into the same thing, although FAR less frequently, with my theater major. People who have bad experiences with theater in school also hate it passionately. But I *do* get super defensive at the people who respond to it with, "I hate musicals. They're so stupid." Because, yes, some people are just offensive jerks.)

  4. OH, and I meant to be helpful and say as well that my general response to people hating my major is to say, "Well, it's not for everyone, but I really, really love it." Acknowledging their rudely-stated opinions while still firmly stating your love for the subject can occasionally open up the floor for non-argue-y discussion.