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Cheryl Hughes: Percentages

My Career As A Woman

You know what I miss?  I miss the days before percentages.  Not that percentages didn’t always exist, they just weren’t as boisterously thrust upon us as they are today. 

Take sports, for instance.  By its very nature, the world of sports is a numbers game.  I concede that.  I grew up in a world where baseball was king, so there were always columns of batting averages in the sports section of our daily Courier Journal, and to the side of the sports reporter on the Channel 3 evening news.  My family also watched a lot of basketball, and though I don’t remember it, I’m sure there was sports commentary on shooting averages. 

The difference between then and now, however, is the obsessive focus on the numbers.  When you listen to a broadcast of UK basketball now, it sounds like a bookie is calling the game: “Kentucky is up by 16, they’re shooting 54%...the Wildcats are leading in field-goal percentage, with 37.4, but none of the players have averaged more than 9.3 points per game this year.”  Just let me watch the game!  Please!

Nowhere are percentages touted louder than they are in the advertising world.  There are so many product comparisons in TV ads.  They get into your psyche, and before you know it, you’re staring at your teeth in the mirror, wondering if they are really 27% whiter (as promised) since you switched from the dazzling white toothpaste to the optic white toothpaste three weeks ago.

Toilet paper is promised to be 33% softer, towels 15% fluffier, and clothes 25% fresher.  Who tests this stuff, anyway, and what kind of technology does it take to measure softer, fluffier and fresher?  My personal favorite is wrinkle cream.  “In independent tests,” one ad claims, “Women saw 23% fewer wrinkles over a six-week period.”  Wouldn’t you have loved to be part of that experiment—“Hon, remember, I’ll be a bit late for dinner, I’m having my wrinkles counted today,”

Give me back the days of non-specifics.  I remember my first pair of PF Flyers, tennis shoes that promised to help you run faster and jump higher—not 27% faster and higher—just faster and higher.  The first thing I did after lacing them onto my feet, was to test them out on myself.  I ran around to the back yard and jumped off the picnic table.  Yep, faster and higher.  Case closed.

We are a demanding group of people, we Americans.  We always want better.  I’m all for improvement, but maybe we need to step back a minute and examine the merits of satisfaction.  I bet if an independent test were conducted, it would show that people who choose to be satisfied with what they have live 33% longer than people who are always striving for better


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