It’s something I remember from high school math class, shorthand for “if and only if.” It means that one thing will happen only if something else does. Tom will buy apples from Bob IFF Donna buys pears from Tom. If Donna doesn’t buy pears, the Tom and Bob deal falls apart. You can also find IFF in short or long form in logic puzzles and online games. IFF creates conditions that affect everything else, making games more fun and solving puzzles challenging and possible. If and only if.
I think New Year’s resolutions often come from a game of “if and only if” we play with ourselves and others. I’ll train for a marathon, keep my home and mind free of clutter, eat only healthy foods, and accomplish more with fewer hours and less effort. Behind these resolutions is this hidden IFF: Happiness/love/success/contentment/worth will be mine if and only if I train for the marathon/keep my home and mind free of clutter/eat only healthy foods/ accomplish more.
I like “ if and only if” when it comes to equations, games, and puzzles; I’m suspicious of IFF when it shows up in real life for a couple of reasons:
1. Unlike games, equations, and puzzles, life is open ended. There are any number of things that can and do happen. If and only if assumes a closed reality.
2. IFF thinking assumes that I know the only or best way something can come about. The conditions I set may not be the way reality works.
3. Usually peace, happiness, love, and worth don’t come from getting a specific thing. If and only if may get me a particular object, but I’ll eventually want something else – and the cycle continues.
4. What I really want is to know that I’m not lost to myself, others, and most especially God.
In 2015, I’ll do my best not to reduce God, self, and neighbor to any IFF. I can’t do it alone, though. A holy life is always a life lived in communion, always lived in this expanding and sacred cosmos. Unconditionally mine and everybody else’s.