From Zero to Infinity

Math Lessons

In a recent episode of the Order of Man podcast, host Ryan Michler interviewed Chris Williamson, host of another show I frequent, Modern Wisdom. The men covered a variety of topics and subjects, but towards the end of the show, Chris articulated an idea that I had not heard before:

Never multiply by zero.

As a professional numbers guy, I am always excited to hear great advice that ties in math or statistics. In this case, the rule is simple and rooted in something most of us learn in elementary school.

Any number, no matter how big or small, if multiplied by zero will equal zero. Seems straightforward enough. So what did Chris mean when he said this?

He used the example of health. A person could exercise, eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, take the right supplements, and sleep 8 hours a night. Most people would agree that from a physical health standpoint this is a high standard. But if the same person drives a car recklessly with no seatbelt, no amount of supplements, exercise, or sleep will overcome the effects of flying through the windshield in a car crash.

In this case, the reckless driving and not wearing a seatbelt is multiplying by zero.

The point Chris was trying to make is that we need to be ruthless in seeking out the ‘zeros’ in our lives. I can be rooted in the noble pursuit of growth and greatness, but I also need to be aware of the areas that could take me out. It might be a behaviour, a habit, or even an attitude. Self-reflection and understanding are important in the search for zero.

Balanced Equations

As I contemplated this concept and its application in my own life, a few themes began to emerge. One example in my life, which I have discussed before, is consumption of media content. If I do not regulate myself, it is easy for me to spend excessive time online, reading on current events. The way most sites are designed now, it is easy to roll from one story to the next on the same subject, albeit with a slightly different angle or tone.

Over the last few years, I have tried to become more intentional about what I do with my time, particularly at the bookends of the day. I have tried to focus on the first thing I do when I get up and the last thing I do before I go to bed.

For a long time, the answer to both was my phone. It is so easy to do. The action of looking at news, sports, or email before doing anything purposeful can steal my thoughts and focus for the morning. I can recall days when my mind has departed to the anticipated chaos of the day before I have gotten out of bed.

The same thing applies before bed. If the last thing I read is something that evokes an emotional reaction, getting a restful sleep is more challenging.

When I think about how I want my day to begin, the idea of rooting myself in truth, peace, and joy sounds much better than reading about the endless sufferings of the world[1]. Establishing a routine of reading something inspiring is something I have been working on lately.

I have many friends that have well-practiced routines involving prayer and meditation each morning. My routine often gets disrupted by the demands of hungry toddlers, so I have more humble goals during this season of life. For me, sitting down to intentionally reconnect with God, read a short scripture passage, and spend a few (sometimes very few) minutes in quiet is realistic. When I do this, the difference I notice in my outlook and focus for the rest of the day is tangible.

When I dive straight online in the morning, I get distracted or worked up, especially these days. I find it harder to regain my peace once I have let it out of my grasp. I can wake up with the best of intentions, but when my thoughts and emotions get hijacked because of a consumption choice, I am multiplying by zero.

John Eldredge talks about the ratio between consumption of media, including tv and movies, and time spent in prayer, reading, or listening to podcasts that build us up. It is not a figure I have ever tracked, but I am certain that for most of my life it would skew heavily to the media consumption side.

Lately, as I have tried to rebalance the ratio, I have found more peace. On the days when the time investing in relationship with God is greater than the time spent online, the benefits are clear. The zeros become easier to spot and less threatening.

A Missing Variable

Zero multiplying activities are only a part of the story. The posture we adopt in our daily lives can also result in unnecessarily nullifying good work we set out to do.

In the Gospels, Jesus is critical of the Pharisees, a zealous group of religious leaders, many obsessing over religious practices and laws. Jesus often condemned their attitudes and behaviours as they focused on outward appearances.

The Pharisees created so many laws and commands that it became very difficult for anyone to follow them. They were accused by Jesus of being hypocrites for condemning others for not following the laws, while they broke them. Obsessing over their actions, believing them to be righteous, their lack of compassion for others became the zero that nullified all their works.

Focusing so much on outer appearances and actions, we too can forget to look at what is happening on the inside. When we act in any circumstance, if we lack love and respect for others, the result may be a lot of noise and little substance.

St. Paul writes about the necessity for love in anything we do. “And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains — if I am without love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2, emphasis added).

Love is the antithesis of zero. It is infinite. When we act in a spirit of love towards those we meet, we can exponentially increase the value of an interaction. I have seen this in relationships with my children and in business meetings. Listening and seeking to understand others is an act of love, and in a time when most would prefer to be first and right, taking a step back and evaluating how I am showing up can be the difference between a fruitful product and a zero.

Theories and Proofs

Zeros that affect our physical health might be easy to spot and avoid. Wear a seatbelt, decide against taking up smoking. Most would agree there are basic things we should try to avoid.

When it comes to the well being of the heart, the zeros in each of our lives are harder to spot. They are unique to us. Hidden in our inner depths, identifying them can be challenging.

Regular reflection and examination are important to identify potential zeros. Even so, it is impossible to say whether we can find and eliminate all the zeros. But when we choose to live from a place of love for self and others, rooted in the love of the Father, we can overcome the fatality of zero.

God’s love for us cannot be eliminated. It is infinite and not subject to the laws of mathematics. Approaching others in our daily activities, before condemning or zeroing out, we are called to love. Seek this above all else.

The product will be well worth it.


[1]  This is not to say these stories do not matter; I only suggest that personally taking them all on before eating breakfast is not prudent or emotionally sustainable.

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