Are you an adder, subtractor or a multiplier?

Saturday 1482 – 3rd March 2012



When I was driving up in the Lake District on the 23rd February I was listening to the Chris Evan’s Breakfast show on BBC Radio 2,  just after 9 a.m.  There’s a 5 minute slot at that time called Pause for Thought which is usually presented by a minister of one faith or another.

On this particular day it was presented by Simon Cohen who created  the company Global Tolerance in November 2003. They’re an international communications agency that only works with people committed to positive social change. You can read about the company here

Below is the transcript of Simon Cohen’s Pause for Thought :-

“I get to work with all kinds of weird and wonderful people, from the Dalai Lama, to Gandhi’s grandson and even Wallace & Gromit, but one person who will always stick in my mind is a guy called John, who works for the Post Office.

We only ever met once, but when we were together, he confided in me. He said, ‘Simon, a few weeks ago my mum died. And on her death-bed, she said to me ‘Son’- Actually, I’m not sure she sounded quite like that, but bear with me, ‘Son, there are three types of people in this world: adders, subtractors and multipliers.’

When you’re with adders, you feel empowered, energised, your soul smiles a bit with every encounter. The subtractors – and like the adders, they could be a partner, colleague, or someone in your family – they leave you somehow feeling less, subtracted from, as though, to add to their own energy, they take something from you. And then there are multipliers. Now, if you are lucky, you might be married to one – or they might be someone you meet just once in your life, like John – and they set off something disproportionate within you – the Multiplier Effect.

We can all think of people who fit these categories, but it is perhaps more challenging to ask ‘who am I to them?’ For many years I saw my dad as a subtractor in my life – not always – but a subtractor nonetheless. But when I asked myself ‘who am I to him?’ and realised that I might be a subtractor, it transformed our relationship, as I determined to be an adder or a multiplier. We are now the best of friends.

It can be helpful to consider who the adders, subtractors and multipliers are in our lives, and who we let in to the inner circles of our heart. But by going through an honest listening process, we can strive to be multipliers in each other’s lives. So who are you going to be today, An adder, subtractor or a multiplier? “

I have been thinking about what he said every day since and thought I’d share it with you today.

Whilst I may well be considered to be an adder in my working life, having always been involved in Nursing or Social Care, I’m sorry to say that I have not always been an adder in my personal/ family life and probably very rarely, if ever, a multiplier.  I have been held back by disproportionate fear; in my case fear of going back to the poverty from whence I came.

This fear of mine has stopped me being free to act spontaneously ; something I am trying hard to rectify in my later years.  I feel I have sometimes been a subtractor in my children’s lives as I have not always been able to encourage them to fly free and live worry free lives: following their dreams. They have undoubtedly been hampered by my insecurities and the wearing of my sensible head !

That saddens me but the past is the past and I cannot get it back. I can only move forward and endeavour to try in future to be at the very least an adder in my children’s and other people’s lives and try never to be a subtractor.

Saturday Girl will leave you with this thought -When you look into your own heart are you more an Adder, a Subtractor or a Multiplier ?  If you suspect you might be a subtractor are you able to try to change that?


Addendum re Nicholas and Carren Post from 2 weeks ago which you can read here  I wrote to Plan about how they choose the children for sponsorship and I have added their reply to the original post


There’s a reminder of what this blog is about here


You can see lots of photos on my other blog Helen’s Photomania here


29 comments on “Are you an adder, subtractor or a multiplier?

  1. samstorey says:

    I heard this too on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show and it has stuck in my head ever since. Wonderful. I am a rare multiplier but it leaves me vulnerable to the subtractors out there a lot of the time which makes me withdraw and so I hide myself away and become a subtractor – I am working on that – as I realise now I am 40+ that being a multiplier is a special gift and that I need to use the gift. I think we are all three at different times but in our heart of hearts we are just one of them. I also think you can be a divider too. A really great piece and now when I think of this Though for the Day I will think of your article too. Thank you.

  2. Suez says:

    Helen, I realize that I am commenting on an “old” topic…but I just discovered your site tonight, and while browsing your titles…this one grabbed me…possibly because I am a retired mathematics instructor. Of the four basic operations in mathematics, only three are mentioned here…and certainly, addition and subtraction are inverse operations; so are multiplication and division. Just as repeated addition leads to multiplication, so does repeated subtraction lead to division. I can see how this analogy could be included into this thought…in fact, I can see how an entire book could be written on this topic…uh, something to consider….Helen or Simon…???

  3. […] have openly shared that I haven’t always got things right in the past,  when I have been ill, first with work-related stress and depression, then my Type 2 diabetes […]

  4. Simon Cohen says:

    Thanks for all your beautiful thoughts. You have really added to my day! 🙂

  5. Mark Goodwin says:

    Excellent Helen, thank you for sharing Simon’s wise words.
    They certainly do stop you in your tracks and make you assess your position in life.
    By nature I have always been a very positive person and because of that I would like to think that I am by nature, an adder. For twenty years I was a management and training consultant, mainly working with new business start-ups. My job was always trying to motivate people, and teaching them how to motivate their people. In that scenario I would like to think I was a multiplier. At age 70 I am now retired and for the past 4 years I have been my wife’s main carer, she has Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. In this instance I would like to think I am an adder and hopefully at times, when required a multiplier. I am the father of three grown boys all of whom are ambitious and driven, they take from me continually, but in the nicest possible way. I am glad they come to me for support and guidance, something I never had from own father. So hopefully I am an adder for them if not a multiplier at times.
    OK, having said all that…I also have a reputation for being inpatient (a subtractor), short tempered, (A subtractor) Being so ambitious and driven to the detriment of a young wife and a young growing family (A subtractor). Spontaneous and sometimes ‘un-planned’ certainly to be seen by most as a subtractor.
    As you can see it certainly as given me food for thought, I haven’t written so much in an age!
    Once again thank you for sharing….from now I will make a conscious effort to be both an adder and a multiplier. On the down side…I have no one that I can turn to for add-age or multiplication but maybe that is my fault!

    • hellenjc says:

      Thank you for sharing this Mark and so thoughtfully. I suspect most of us can be all three as you have said. I am so sorry to hear about your wife and wish you the strength to continue to support her.

  6. mrsimoncohen says:

    Thank you for your beautiful reflections. You have all added to me 🙂

  7. Karen Brogan says:

    Hmmm food for thought indeed.
    I think that at different times in my life I have probably been all three!
    But I know what you mean about the children. I think we are so keen not to repeat our perceived mistakes made by our parents that maybe we are a little too sensible? Too restrictive? However, I will strive to become a more frequent multiplier now!

  8. Axel Pliopas says:

    I like tihs framework for interpreting our impact upon other`s lives because it’s so clear things are not monochromatic and also not static! One can be a multiplier today and a subtractor tomorrow… Or someone who is an adder to someone is also, at the same time, a sbtractor or a multiplier when interacting with others… Life is something very rich and we often tend to focus on one area where things are going well… where we feel ourselves to be multipliers, and then we label everything as “subtractors” towards ourselves… When we are doing pretty well at work, may be we could be even better weren`t by the “subtractors” children we have demanding attantion at home… And so on… So I really enjoyed reading about this necessity of asking “who AM I to others?” instead of only trying to identify who the others are to us…. Thank you very much for the insightful reading 😉

  9. ~mimo~ says:

    This is quite thought provoking!

  10. Caroline Warnes says:

    A very thought-provoking post Helen. What a good way to describe the effect people have on each other. I know many adders, some subtractors and a few multipliers. I think I am sometimes an adder and sometimes a subtractor, this is a very good reminder to be more positive and add more. Thank you.

  11. Pranav Lal says:

    Well, multiplication is repeated addition. <smile

    This whole deal of multiplication depends on the recipient too. I have tried to add to peoples lives but that has not always worked. They may not have been receptive to my form of addition. <chuckle

  12. Great post – very interesting. I have to admit, lately I’ve been a subtractor (hmmm… wordpress spell check doesn’t like “subtractor”). Anyway… and I realize I have not been myself, more negative than positive. But this post just may give me the “umph” I need to steer towards being an adder.

    • hellenjc says:

      Spellcheck does indeed not like subtractor as I’m sure it’s made up word.. as for you being a subtractor recently – with your diagnosis I think that is hardly surprising.. Don’t be too hard on your self Michelle ( it is Michelle isn’t it? )

      • Yes it is Michelle. Glad you remember because sometimes I forget! LOL… 🙂

        Yeah, the MS is what’s put a damper on my smile. I’ve turned into a bit of a grouch primarily at work. At home I’m not like that.

  13. drawandshoot says:

    Really interesting thoughts Helen, I like this post. I’m thinking I’m an adder for the most part….

    • hellenjc says:

      That’s good Karen 😉 I hope I am much more an adder than a subtractor these days! ps since you replied to this I’ve added a link on this post to the Nicholas and Carren post where I’ve added something else.

  14. scillagrace says:

    Very chewy food for thought! I know what I hope to be in my children’s lives, in the lives of everyone I have an opportunity to engage: a multiplier. I want to think awhile about what that would look like. Adding is much simpler. I would think you could do that with a smile alone (and I bet Thich Nhat Hahn would agree!). That would be generosity. Multiplying sounds like it would require an openness, a fearless faith in possibilities, perhaps. That takes an exceptional person to embody. I’d like to be that for someone some day!

    • hellenjc says:

      Scilla I think being a multiplier means having an inspirational effect on people. Though this is open to everyone’s interpretation.
      Smiling does indeed make you an adder !
      Since you replied to this I have added in a link to the Nicholas and Carren post and on there I’ve put a reply from Plan to a letter I wrote them.

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