He spent tons of energy defending his position, explaining how “math people” really anger him and his fellow “math haters.”

My initial reaction was to type out a response demonstrating where he does math, how he does it, and even the parts in his comments where he admitted he does math everyday.

But I stopped. It seemed… wrong somehow. So I’ve been thinking about his comments for a couple of weeks now – wondering how I should respond.

I learned something new about learning math.

Gary has taught me something about learning and teaching math: when we push, others push back.

For so long I’ve told people to stop saying, “I hate math.” I’ve tried to convince them they can’t hate math because they do math everyday. Clearly (I see now) this helps people say it more.

When told they don’t really hate math – they find reasons that they do. They work very hard at digging up all the experiences that support it. They can’t remember the experiences that might have been good. Everything they’ve got is poured into defending their stance.

When we invalidate feelings, they push more.

Every time I tell someone they don’t hate math, I’m invalidating their feelings! How is this fair?

It isn’t. It’s yukky and hurtful.

If you hate math, good for you! That’s the way you feel.

I hate magic – something that lots of people think is stupid. But that’s the way I feel. And I don’t want those turds invalidating those feelings.

People have the right to feel the way they feel. And if they hate math, that’s okay.

People do math everyday.

The fact is that people do math. Everybody. Everyday. Even Gary.

Gary writes in his comments: “this isn’t to say that I can’t perform basic math or even a few not-so-basic mathematical/arithmetic disciplines.” He does math everyday, but I’ve given him reason to dig out all the horrid things about it.

My business coach, Sarah Shah, has a really cool way of handling things like this. She gets people to open up. But not by telling them what they should think or feel. Instead she yields and acknowledges the other person. She validates their feelings.

Up until now I’ve been doing just the opposite. And I feel terrible about it.

I apologize to you.

So Gary, and everyone else in Gary’s shoes, please accept my apology. You hate math. And I’m not going to push you on that anymore.

And from here out, when someone says “I hate math,” I’m going to open up. I’m going to say, “You hate math,” and I’ll wait for them to offer more.

I’m not going to give the “mom look” ever again.

Back to you…

What happens when someone says, “I hate math” in front of you? What happens when you say it to others? Will you do anything differently now? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Validation IS important!

“That is understandable. Nothing is fun until you are good at it.”

“In this case, familiarity breeds tolerance… and, eventually, satisfaction (and, dare I say, enjoyment!).”

Hey, T.

Thanks so much for your comment. And indeed – enjoyment sometimes is the result.

Just goes to show the stuff is naturally fun, if you let it be.