Grover counts

This is an English translation of a column published in the Dutch newspaper “De Volkskrant” at Jan. 20th 2007.

“One apple. Here I have one apple.”
“Another apple. That makes two apples.”
“One, two.”
“Again another apple.”
“Three apples.”
“One apple, two apples, three apples.”
“One, two, three. Well well wel, another lesson by Grover. Isn’t he smart?!”

Grover counts. Grover counts in two ways. He counts: one, two, three. And he counts as one of the key figures in Sesamestreet. An intruiging double meaning of the word “count”. “One, two, three.” That’s counting. And to matter, to be of significance. That also counts. I count, you count, we all count.

Too often – I think – these two meanings of “to count” are mixed up. We then think that the only things that count, are the things we can count. But there is so much more that counts.

In the field of healthcare we count. We count health: 350 hospital beds; 3 days in a bed; on average 23 minutes of attention a day; 1400 operations; 95 percent success; 5 percent losses; 12 ml. of morphine. It’s so easy to think that health equals hospital beds, minutes of attention per day en successrates. Because those we can measure, grasp, count. But can health be counted? And should we do that?

How good is this paper? 250 thousand readers and on average 72 articles of about 400 words. More than 50 percent of Dutch executives reads this paper in the weekend. (Executives are owners of firms with a turn over of at least a million euros, or with more than 20 employees; or are people in the public sector in a salary scale of at least 16.) Okay, but how good is this paper? Can we count quality?

And how beautiful is the Nachtwacht? Well, it’s so beautiful that it attracts more that 800 thousand visitors a year; who pay about 12 euros; and stay in Amsterdam, on average, for about two-and-a-half days; and spend 300 euros per person. That’s how beautiful the Nachtwacht is.

I do understand why we count so much. We cannot put our fingers on things we cannot count. That’s fine. But we take counting so seriously that we that we think that only the countable things do count.

There is so much we cannot count. How much, I don’t know. But much of it counts.


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