Greetings from the Ridge.
I got snookered in. Seems like I always do. The article in the magazine was entitled, “The Top Ten Reasons for Visiting a Health Spa.” I have absolutely no desire to go a spa myself nor do I see any chance of me getting the urge in the near future, but I read the list. My curiosity had nothing to do with shape of my thighs or my hip tone, but it was a list and God knows we’re all suckers for lists.
My doctor has the world’s largest collection of boring magazines with titles ranging all the way from, “Learning to Live with Diverticulitis,” to “Making Cholesterol Work for You!” He seems to have a theory that if you suffer enough in the waiting room then whatever happens next won’t be that bad. But last week I actually found myself reading, “The Ten Best Questions to Ask Your Doctor.” I kept looking for, “Do you have anything even remotely interesting to read?”
A writer can call his essay, “What You Need to Know to Keep from Dying Tomorrow!” and most folks will turn the page, but the simple addition of “The Top Ten…” and we’ll eagerly devour whatever drivel we find on the page. Which got me to thinking….Why? Why are lists more interesting than straightforward prose?
My findings: “THE TOP TEN REASONS WE LOVE TOP TEN LISTS.”
1. Blame it on our kindergarten teacher. Any teacher of tots worth her salt knows that small minds respond to numbers. Counting is the first thing we’re asked to master when we enter the land of paste and safety scissors. Why else did we say, “I have to go do number one!”?
2. We feel we can quit reading at any time. Of course we never do, but a little self-deception goes a long way.
3. A list somehow seems shorter than a paragraph. Even though it might contain exactly the same amount of words we think that because it’s broken down into numbers that it won’t take as long to read. This says a great deal about both human psychology and our average intelligence.
4. There’s something mildly exciting about working your way up to number one. Okay, it won’t exactly send you into fits of ecstasy to read your way to the top of the list of reasons for getting a colostomy, but it beats counting cars in front of the grocery store.
5. Face it, there’s something magical about the number 10. All the way back to our nursery rhyme days when we’d sing about the “Ten Little Indians,” we’re somehow genetically linked to the decimal system. Why are there exactly ten reasons for visiting London this summer or Ten Steps to Healthier You? I have a sneaking notion that it has nothing to do with Big Ben or getting more exercise, it’s the magic to be found in the number ten.
6. Lists seem scientific. I can talk all I want about the reasons I should have never married Herb, but if I hand you a list of the ten explanations for the man’s lunacy it makes it look like I received a government grant to study the matter.
7. A list, after all, looks like a bunch of very short paragraphs. No one would tackle War and Peace if they could pick up the abridged Readers Digest version instead. We want fast service, fast food, a fast return on our income tax, and it’s a growing trend to opt for fast relationships. Accuracy in a list? Who cares? It’s fast, baby.
8. An astute reader will learn to discover when the author of a list is stretching his information just to make the list come out to a perfect ten. For further proof, see number 8 in this list.
9. Face it, we love order. We don’t want to see a spoon in the slot with the forks, and when we talk to a person with their coat collar inadvertently tucked under it’s all we can do to keep from reaching out and straightening the offending tab. In fact, many of us do just that. A skilled writer can take the most tangled mishmash of ideas and simply number them one to ten and most readers will assume they’re looking at the work of a genius.
10. To say that something is ranked in the top eleven is like kissing your sister. It just doesn’t count.
You ever in Coonridge, stop by. We may not answer the door but you'll enjoy the trip.