Brain Food #478

The ninety-nine percent

Thoughts of the day

Our world revolves around numbers, perhaps now more than ever. As with everything, there are the good aspects of this, such as providing an understanding of the spread and impact of the pandemic, aiding life to return to normal, and the bad, like election results being determined via unethical ‘number crunching’.

It is easy to forget that behind all these numbers lie human lives, and that, according to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, ninety-nine percent are worthy of our empathy, despite all their flaws.

And it is worth remembering that, probabilistically speaking, we may well be in that ninety-nine percent, too.

Wislawa Szymborska - Sotto una piccola stella

A WORD ON STATISTICS

by Wislawa Szymborska

Out of every hundred people,
those who always know better:
fifty-two.

Unsure of every step:
almost all the rest.

Ready to help,
if it doesn’t take long:
forty-nine.

Always good,
because they cannot be otherwise:
four — well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:
eighteen.

Led to error
by youth (which passes):
sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:
four-and-forty.

Living in constant fear
of someone or something:
seventy-seven.

Capable of happiness:
twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,
turning savage in crowds:
more than half, for sure.

Cruel
when forced by circumstances:
it’s better not to know,
not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:
not many more
than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:
thirty
(though I would like to be wrong).

Balled up in pain
and without a flashlight in the dark:
eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:
quite a few, thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:
three.

Worthy of empathy:
ninety-nine.

Mortal:
one hundred out of one hundred —
a figure that has never varied yet.


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