"junoexpress" <email@example.com> wrote in message news:firstname.lastname@example.org... > At social gatherings when people ask what you do, if you say > mathematics, they'll often respond that they hate math or were > terrible at in school, etc. Kind of a rude response I think, as I > wouldn't come out and so openly diss someone's profession like that. > And somewhat of a humorous response, since few people would think to > confess that they were bad at English or could barely read or put > together a coherent sentence, and yet they so gleefully volunteer that > they are bad at math. I'm curious how people who do math respond to > those types of comments. > > M
The subject of math is associated in many people's minds with frustration and humiliation, at an early age too, unfortunately. It's the sort of subject in which, if you missed Tuesday's class, you'll be lost in Wednesday's class, to put it a bit too simply. And teachers who have no talent or interest will probably pass on to the student their own dislike of the whole affair. If the teacher hates the subject, and can barely work through the grade-school lessons himself and only by conforming in every detail to the recipes in the book, then the student's impression of mathematics is bound to turn out lousy, unless he has some real innate talent or he has some other adult influencing him.
I'm not a professional in mathematics, which makes it easier, in my case, to explain at the café why I'm so often scratching away with diagrams and formulas. I've loved the subject since childhood, still do, and that's all. If that makes the person curious, which it often does, I can jot down for him any of many little theorems and puzzles that are a lot easier to state than they are to prove. Such things are a challenge, and the listener understands the notion of a challenge. I can usally assure the listener quite honestly that his anxiety about the subject, if he has any, is acquired and not innate.
Personally I would not call myself a mathematician even if I were qualified to do so. I don't like that word.
In some parts of the world, particularly Eastern Europe and Russia, there is little or no stigma about mathematics. The Swiss put Euler on their 10-mark banknote. The Germans had Gauss on theirs, prior to the euro. I once saw a Soviet postage stamp carrying a portrait of Muhammad al-Khwarizmi (from whom we get the word "algorithm") who lived in what is now Kazakhstan.