October 22nd, 2020

Why the obsession with precision?

By Letter to the Editor on November 6, 2019.

Japanese are sticklers for punctuality but we know how to live with ambiguity. We rarely say “No.” Sounds too definite. Instead, we say something like “Yeah, but.” The right answer can wait if it creates a relationship issue.

The Japanese language does not have definite article nor indefinite article. So I had no idea what the fuss was all about when elected delegates spent many hours debating passionately if the Bible is “a” foundation or “the” foundation of faith at a United Church’s highest decision-making court – General Council. I am happy if it is approximately close to whatever. I don’t apologize for my sloppy argument, because flexibility lets us avoid needless quarrel. We live in ambiguity for a while until the mist dissipates and an answer presents itself. Time will tell. Why fight?

All is relative. A veterinarian’s examination room has a sign, “A year for a human is six years for a cat. When you go away for a week, your cat will suffer your absence for six weeks.” One minute is just like a flash. But a two-minute silence at a Remembrance Day ceremony feels like eternity. When you get old, time passes very quickly. But when you are a teenager waiting for a girlfriend, it feels like forever. It’s all relative.

Or could it be time is uneven? There is no such thing as an absolutely straight line, because the Earth is round. The shortest line between point A to point B is curved. What seems reality for you may not exist. A star could be billions of light-years away. So it could be billions of years old or may no longer exist. What will happen to the world when I die? To me, it won’t exist.

I think that over-emphasis on accuracy, correctness or precision is a source of unnecessary anxiety and many disputes. We waste countless hours fighting over trivial things, causing the break-up of relationships and hurting people. Fighting could be deadly when it comes to religions or ideologies. Humans have killed each other over customs, policies and religious doctrines, or even about clothes, over stupid differences. It’s all because of our obsession with precision; like “a” or “the.”

As time passes, many of those disputes begin to look silly. We are one family sharing the same space. Can we not live with ambiguity until you can see it more clearly in a bigger picture?

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui


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