Does A List Say It All?

January 13, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’m a list kinda gal. I wouldn’t say I live by the list because frankly I misplace too many of them for the list of the day to be overly effective, but I find writing things down helps me remember. It has always been so, not just now as the filing cabinet that is my brain is seemingly near full – it certainly takes longer to finger my away along the rows of hanging files looking for that pertinent bit of information.

What I don’t do however is write articles listing the best ways to do something. Firstly I don’t feel enough of an authority on any particular topic to presume to know which are the most salient points, and secondly I’m not entirely sure that to live by someone else’s list is particularly helpful.

It does though seem I am in the minority, which wouldn’t be the first time, as a quick scan of Facebook and Google this morning has brought up the following lists: 10 Travel Gadgets to Help You Sleep, 5 Habits for Parents Raising Bi-lingual Children, 8 Small Bathroom Designs You Should Copy, 20 Transformational Truths from Sages Throughout the Ages, (now that’s a mouthful) and get this, 6 Reasons Why You Should Date the Outgoing Introvert. Now what the hell does that last one mean? Apart from anything else, someone else’s list is just so damn bossy.

When I started writing, seriously, I was advised that using numbers and lists in my titles would be a catchall for the browser, but it is something I just can’t sign up to. So imagine my delight when reading Zia Haider Rahman’s book In the Light of What We Know, I came across the following passage:

“We are a species in love with lists. We even live our lives by the lists of others, the ordering of our days: the Ten Commandments, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Four Noble Truths, the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Everything is made simple by lists, made digestible, parceled into manageable units, reducing the complexity of the world into the simplicity of a line.”

Brilliant – I wish I could have come up with such a succinct paragraph!

And it’s true, lists do make things manageable. There is something supremely satisfying when seeing the ticks (checks in America) showing a task completed. Lists can of course be helpful: a list of plants that would survive in a certain climate or a list of polite phrases to learn whilst on the plane to a new country for example. It is though too easy to take a list at face value, to not dig a little deeper. To become lazy.

And much of what we know, of what happens in the world cannot be reduced to a list. There is no list that can, or should, dilute the horrors unfolding around the globe on a daily basis, unless of course of you are an American reporter for Fox news. I wonder if he, in an effort to simplify, was making a list of cities in England open only to Muslims. The reporter burbled a soundbite that was so erroneous as to be almost laughable, but only if you don’t happen to live in Birmingham. For Brummies his comment was just plain insulting, and his mea culpa of ‘sloppy’ research asinine.

So making a list for public consumption boils down to what the writer, or speaker, believes to be the most apposite, and it is up to us to discern whether he or she is right in the numerical ordering, or indeed the content. I’ll need to make a list of my arguments about that, but meantime maybe we should all take note of Paul Simon’s words in his list, 50 Ways to Leave your Lover.

She said, “It’s really not my habit to intrude 

Furthermore, I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued….”


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