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Converting To The Metric System Starts With The Individual

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Converting To The Metric System Starts With The Individual

On her deathbed, my mother took my hand. "Theresa," she said. "When I was a girl, I thought I could change the world. But as I grew, I began to believe that the world was an intractable place. I put aside dreams and gave up my hopes. It is only now that I realize it was well within my power to change myself—and therein, by a small degree, the world."

If you want to change the world, you can't sit on your hands expecting some higher authority to do it for you. You've gotta get out there and make things happen. As my mother taught me, converting to the metric system starts with the individual.

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't use the metric system as its predominant system of weights and measures—a fact that many Americans besides me find ridiculous. But there's no point in whining that we would be better off if we switched to kilometers and hectoliters while you drive your kids to school in a car that gets 23 miles to the gallon. You're still part of the problem.

Do you think some government agency is going to magically sweep in and convert our cubic feet into cubic decimeters? People have been waiting for that to happen since the Carter Administration. Where has it gotten us? The Metric Act of 1866 may have made it legal to measure milk in liters, but down at the IGA, they're still selling it by the quart.

It's like Gandhi said: "You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees." If you truly believe that our current system handicaps American products and services in world markets, do something. Purge your bathroom of all products sold by imperial measurement and replace them with toiletries purchased from web sites based in European countries. It will cost a little more, but no one said changing the world was easy.

If you're a landlord renting an apartment by the square foot, you're part of the problem. Next time you place an ad, tout the rental space's spacious 78.965 square meters. If you're buying land, flat out refuse to purchase anything that isn't measured in hectares.

Sure, you'll meet some resistance. People will say: "We don't sell oats by the cubic meter." They'll trot out that old conservative standard, "If you want to be in the manufacturing industry, you have to buy steel by the ton." They might even claim that they don't know what a "tonne" is. Converting to the metric system is no walk in the park, but if you're serious about converting, others will recognize your commitment and join you.

Remember: The journey of a thousand kilometers starts with a single decimeter. We won the battle against spans and cubits, and we can beat the foot. And the pint and the pound. It all starts with the man or woman in the mirror.

So the next time "More Bounce To The Ounce" comes on your radio, don't just sit there snapping your fingers—call the station and demand to speak to the DJ. Insist that he play a new version of the song called "More Bounce To The 1.6 Grams," which you will record yourself in your basement and send him. Don't complain about how changes need to be made unless you're willing to make those changes yourself.

In this life, nothing good comes easy. Adopting a great system like the metric system requires sustained effort and personal sacrifice. Rest assured, you will benefit from a more practical and easy-to-understand system of measurement. And, when others see the ease with which you measure and weigh things, they'll be inspired by your example.

If you can't make the conversion to the metric system happen in your own house, how do you think it'll happen to an entire nation? Through the intercession of federal decision-makers who advocate phasing in the metric system over a several-year period? Pipe dreams. We know all too well what happened to the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, and the Savings in Construction Act of 1996.

It's like I'm always saying to members of my local AMA chapter: "You can't simply tell somebody that it makes sense to measure with a system that uses the distance from the North Pole to the equator divided into 10 million parts to constitute the meter. You have to show them. You know that the meter's measurement has become even more precise, currently defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second, but you can't teach the practicality of things like that. You can only lead by example."

If enough dedicated people do that, then maybe—just maybe—we can make the means by which we measure this crazy, cockamamie world that much more convenient for everyone. Now, would you care to join me?

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