The Fun(niness) of the Numbers Game

It seems beyond banal to say it, but developments that veer me off my assumed path in life never fail to amaze. Presently, that unforeseen twist consists of levels of involvement in and learning centered around financial management I never thought would be within my capacities, much less my realm of interest. But, circumstances having forced me into a new relationship with numbers, most of my reading these days has to do with fiscal policy and organizational structure.

From von Nettesheim, De Occulta Philosophia, on Wikimedia Commons.

From von Nettesheim, De Occulta Philosophia, on Wikimedia Commons.

You’d think it would be a pretty dry topic, and I’m not denying the frequently flat nature, or occasional lack of affect, of the thick tomes I’ve been lugging around. But here’s what I’ve discovered, and what an excellent teacher has helped me to understand: numbers can tell certain narratives in ways that words alone might have to dance around. With their own grammatical structures and rules of usage, numbers and formulae can give off a sort of crackling espionage-esque sense that secret code is carrying something electric through dark voids, something that the players involved want to keep under wraps.

Admittedly, all of this excitement is probably due to the thrill of discovering that I’m not nearly as bad at math as I’d always presumed, and to the dorky elation yours truly experiences at learning just about anything new. But even after the numerical honeymoon comes to an end, I’ll still be left with bits of levity from my present text, Financial Management for Nonprofit Organizations: Policies and Practices.* I’m guessing the authors didn’t expect readers to laugh at the following warning– “In the process of carrying out these [financial] responsibilities, some members of the organization may feel disliked or undervalued by those they serve on a regular basis… accountability is not always popular with those being held accountable”–** but being personally familiar with such reactions blended into my love of what sounded like such an old-school maxim at the end there that I had to wonder, and amusedly so, with what sort of facial expression this team set those words down, and whether they exchanged greatest-hits tales of being derided as the office goodie-two-shoes.

Plus, the following provided a much-needed break from the legalese of the sample board by-laws I was reading– namely, the specification that “There shall be no… members who are not natural persons” on the board.*** Sorry, robots; you’ve still got a way to go, in terms of being fully accepted in the human world. I’m not sure where this rule leaves ghosts; I guess their official designation as “supernatural” disqualifies them as well. Yeah, yeah; I understand why such a specification needs to be made, but really: I’ll take any occasion I can to make this stuff more engaging– or relatable to a “natural person,” as the by-laws would have it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m in no danger of ditching my lifelong obsession with linguistics, poetics, syntax, structure, imaginative plot and characterization and metaphor and the like. And my finding humor in this stuff isn’t in any way an indication of my taking it as anything less than dead-serious, and interesting, material. But damn– as long as I’m learning it, I’m determined to have as much fun with it as possible. Might as well, since “those I’m holding accountable” definitely aren’t finding anything at all entertaining about my being trained in the ways of pointing official fingers.

 

* John Zietlow, Jo Ann Hankin, and Alan G. Seidner (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2007).
** ibid., xxvi.
*** ibid., 118.

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