Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Question and a Comment

Dear Madame L,

You mentioned inertia in your very first column. What is inertia, anyway?

Answers: (There are lots of answers to this question!) If you ask a physicist, she will say inertia is the tendency for an object in motion to remain in motion; and, likewise, for an object at rest to remain at rest. 

That is why it's so hard to get up off the couch when you're watching the Grammys, for example.

That's very closely related to Madame L's beloved mother's answer to the question of inertia::  It's another word for laziness.

Inertia is also why it's so hard to stop a moving car, or a bicycle, or a human body. To do that, as Sir Isaac Newton pointed out, you need to apply a force.

In Madame L's mother's world, the force was often a psychological one, which was as motivational as any physical force. For example, "If you don't get up and eat your breakfast, you'll be late for school." No, wait, that's not such a good example. Here's a better one: "If you don't get up and eat your breakfast, I won't let you go outside and play with your friends on Saturday." That's more like it. 

And, applying a negative force, or a slightly different psychological motivation, to stop an action: "If you don't stop chasing your brother and trying to hit him with a baseball bat, I won't let you go outside and play with your friends on Saturday."

For some other, non-physics, definitions of inertia, check out Wikipedia's excellent explanation.

Comment: Madame L would like to thank Jeff for his comment on her suggestions for getting along online and in life in general. He wrote about his grandmother's rules for life:

My grandma, born in Germany but raised in Kentucky, taught me this:
-Work hard - there are no excuses for not.
-Work smart - if you think about it as you go you won't waste a lot of time reinventing something.
-Be kind - always, to everyone.

Madame L would also like to thank Jeff's grandma for teaching Jeff those rules.

Thanks again, all, for your questions and comments. Please let Madame L continue to give you advice about problems at work and at home, at the mall, while jogging around your neighborhood, and while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. You may ask questions by commenting here or by writing an e-mail to Madame L at

Madame L hopes to hear from you soon.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Okay, I wasn't going to leave comments, because I figure that I say too much as it is. But I couldn't resist mentioning that Madame L's and her sister's mother used a different form of inertia-moving motivation than the mother you described. My memory is more like: "If you don't get up and eat your breakfast, I'm gonna get the flyswater!" :-)