The first time I heard of Newton's Third Law it got me into trouble for not listening. That's the one that states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. I was in Standard 8 and the science teacher was explaining the law while I was thinking of lovely Leonie sitting in front of me.
For some perverse reason teachers have the bad habit of not asking questions to children who actually sit and listen.
They zoom in on those of us whose thoughts are occupied with more important things. So, without having the faintest idea of what was being explained, I found myself in front of the class with the teacher firmly gripping my right hand. "If I yank on Visser's hand (he always called us by our surnames), he will yank back with the same force," he explained to the class and yanked with fair force for such a small man.
Here I need to explain that I always follow orders and it also needs to be mentioned that the teacher was exceptionally short and much lighter than me.
After he had done his pulling I understood that it was my turn to pull, which I diligently did - and sent him flying past me and against his desk. In the small back room he later explained the law in a practical way.
"You see, each time the cane hits your bottom, your bottom hits back with an equal force in the opposite direction." Till today Newton's Third Law makes absolute sense to me.
Einstein's theory of relativity however, was a totally different kettle of fish. It made no sense to me.
But, to prevent myself from being called to the front of the class again, I listened attentively to every scientific word and ended up an extremely confused young man.
It was only years later that I realised Einstein's Theory of Relativity can be applied with great success in our everyday lives on a different non-scientific level.
What the featherweight science teacher never explained to us, or perhaps I simply missed that part, was that everything is only made real to us by its relationship or comparison to something else. This means that we only experience light because we compare it to darkness and joy because it is compared to sorrow.
Come to think of it, I now realise that I actually applied Einstein's theory in primary school. In comparison with the rest of the boys I was not great at running, but in comparison with Wally and Dennis, who were bigger than me, I was quite fast.
So whenever athletics season started I made sure I was in their group. Perhaps many of the challenges we face today come about because we don't apply Einstein's Theory of Relativity. If I am a minister and I spend R240 000 on a quick trip with three friends to visit the Eiffel Tower, it's peanuts in relation to the budget of billions which the good people entrust to me. But in comparison to a family who have to live on R6 000 a month, it is a fortune on which they can survive for more than three years.
If I crawl along the highway at 80km/h I will irritate most other drivers, but if I do the same in a busy street with pedestrians and cyclists I am travelling at an extremely dangerous speed.
We need to compare situations to situations. If we don't, we return full circle to
Newton's Third Law, where a severe reaction will send us spiralling out of control.