I am:
A white (1) male (2) who is retired( 3) from teaching (4) and on a pension (5) who belongs to AARP (6) and is a church goer (7) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (8) and will soon be on social security (9) and owns some lake property (10) where I fish (11) and use a gas outboard motor (12). I drink an occasional alcoholic beverage (13), have gay friends (14) and politically lean a bit to the left (15).

So here I am, just one person who is in general pretty ordinary. Break me up into these 15 abstract parts, and I am pretty evil-looking, at least in some ways. Some people are not angry over WHO I am, but rather at WHAT I am.

Why is that? Among my friends who know WHO I am, all these various traits are intertwined, so they accept the weaknesses with the strengths. They know that I am who I am, perceiving me as a whole person, made up of several smaller parts.

Break me up into the fifteen parts I list, and I am no longer a whole package – I am a pile of statistics that can be separated into stacks of I HATE THIS ABOUT THIS GUY and I LOVE THIS ABOUT THIS GUY. This is the reverse of what my friends do. Due to these statistical piles, I am now perceived as a bunch of smaller parts that add up to the whole.

I can therefore be dismissed simply because someone doesn’t like one of those fifteen aspects. It doesn’t matter what the whole package amounts to. One flaw deems the rest as wasteful and of no use.

So enough of the self-aggrandizement and vanity. Let’s apply the idea further up the line.

I believe this effect is at work on a higher level. We are so busy making piles of what’s wrong and what’s right with our country (and each other) that we are forgetting to consider the whole package. I believe that the nature of our country, despite what the piles of statistics may indicate, is totally different. I don’t know if it is necessarily better or worse, but it is different.

We have become so very obsessed with statistics. We can’t do anything without making a top ten list, or finding some mathematical device to explain the qualities of anything we wish to examine. We want to know not only the top ten, but the bottom ten as well. It happens in industry, in education, in the economy. We compare everything, regardless of whether or not it makes sense to compare things.
We even apply statistics to things that cannot be quantified. I mean, really, can we honestly say which painting or piece of music is better than the other? Can you say a Shakespeare play should be higher on a list than a piece by Tennessee Williams?

Statistics, even at their best, are merely tool, folks. That’s all. They neither prove nor deny things. They are raw. They are part of the recipe. They serve a purpose, oh yes, they do. But that is all they do. They are a tool, just like a saw or hammer. Would you reject buying a house because you didn’t like the brand of hammer the carpenter used? Well then, why would you give final word to anything based on just statistics?

So then what do we do? Allow me one more personal, vain thought. I am indeed those fifteen things I stated first off – but that is not the whole picture. There may be some things that make me more than that list of fifteen things tells you, or I may be less. After all is said and done, those fifteen things do not make the whole picture.

I suggest this: we use the statistics as those very tools – and the more accurate the better, of course. But beyond that, we need to use the skill of critical thinking, in which we look beyond the tools and look at the whole picture, the whole enchilada, the entire package. There will always be more than is statistically available, and therefore, statistics can only BE a tool, not an end in themselves.

Analyze the statistics, yes. But that’s only part of it. Step back, use your critical sense – and common sense. Then, you can make your own conclusion to the whole picture.