Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Best of...

As I travel around the internet, I frequently bump into lists. We've all seen them -- the ubiquitous Top Tens or x effective ways to find happiness, get rich or snag the best job. While I'm not one to use the word never very often, I don't anticipate a time when you will find such a list here.

I simply can't envision writing the Top Ten Methods to Safely Remove Nose Hair, My Top Fifteen Steps to Writing Effective Blog Posts or the Ten Best Ways to Discover Peace of Mind.

Now, I realize that this might sound like I have an aversion to lists, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a list maven! Almost anytime I undertake a project, I make a list. When I grocery shop, I not only make a list of needed items, but I write the items down in the order I will move through the aisles in the store. For my ongoing series on the Tao Te Ching, I've created several lists of cited sources, key words, which translation/rendition is used for each verse, etc.

So, this begs the question: If I make use of lists all the time, why not feature some on this blog? And the answer has little to do with the concept of lists themselves; it's more bound up in my definitions for words like top, best, [most] effective and the like. To be blunt, for me, each of these words has a fluid definition.

What seems best to me at this very moment may not seem best by the end of this post! What may have proven most effective last week may be least effective this week. Consequently, I'm not the sort of person who would feel comfortable presenting something to you as a fixed set.

One thing I find very pleasurable is making soup. When I was younger, I used to painstakingly write down every ingredient used and in what amount because, if my creation turned out to a delicious concoction, this would afford me the opportunity to recreate the magic at a future date. However, along the way, I began to realize that what seemed like the most perfect soup on one day may not seem the same way the next time around.

So, these days I don't follow recipes or, if I do, not that closely. I make use of whatever ingredients are on hand. If the soup turns out well -- most of them do -- I celebrate the wonderful taste as long as the soup lasts. When the last drop is gone, I set my sights on creating another soup anew.

The same is true for most aspects of my life. Just because something worked yesterday that doesn't mean it will work the same today. A list of steps for an undertaking may have served me well 5 years ago, but that doesn't mean I will value that list in the same way now.

As we gain wisdom, the world around us changes. No, a tree doesn't become a lion nor does a river become a Ferrari -- but our perception of what matters and is important changes. The very nature of lists (particularly ordered lists) is that they are fixed and a fixed concept doesn't fit well with a constantly changing environment.

Who knows? Maybe tomorrow my frame of reference will change and I'll write a post lauding lists as manna from heaven. : )


  1. lists have their place as jumping off points. most of the time i read those lists that you describe and just skim them because there's nothing i didn't already know or else i'm just not all that interested. but every once in a while i stumble upon an idea that i didn't think of and would maybe like to try. and then later i'll try it and formulate my own opinion about it.

    like many other things, i think those lists are just made to share ideas. it's like taking advice from other people- it may be good advice or bad, you can take it or leave it as you will, or take with a grain of salt... either way it'll probably be useful to *someone* in some way...

  2. You make a good point -- one that I had planned to make, but, because I didn't make a list, I forgot about. :D)

    I much prefer random lists. When I write about the various blogs I link to -- like yours! -- I don't order them from best to worst or this to that. The only order I use is alphabetical.

  3. How refreshing! I make soup the same way. Some common ingredients typically go in, but the spices and other flavorings vary by the batch. I have fond memories of especially tasty creations from years ago, never re-created, never needing to be.

    I've found the same to be true in human relationships - the "recipe" that creates success and happiness in one won't necessarily do so in another.

    Iktomi makes a good point. Lists make a good jumping-off point. As a student of kung fu, I have learned a "list" of techniques that have very specific applications. However, when we get into sparring, those techniques almost always have to be modified to suit the specific situation. Often it's hard to know which technique will be "most effective" and I just throw the best thing that comes to mind or, if nothing does, the best I can improvise. As I continue, I notice that the motions I have practiced most thoroughly start naturally creeping into the way I move. I don't think "hey, he threw x, I need to throw y," it just seems like y would be the most appropriate response.

    All of which is a very long-winded way to say that yes, the most effective thing to do at the moment is decided by the moment. We study and practice so that when the moment comes, we have good options to choose from. The "best" option is usually only visible in retrospect.

  4. Hey jjmdarkeagle,
    Thanks for commenting! Your last paragraph really resonates with me!


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