Lists worth being on


Mining entrepreneur Nathan TinklerLast week the BRW Young Rich List appeared. It was hardly noticed, for this is the season of lists: Teams of the Year, Legends Lists, the London Tablet's 100 most influential Catholics list, not to mention short-lists for literary prizes. Lists raise lots of idle questions. What kind of people show up on lists? What do the lists reveal about the list makers? Why do people make and read lists? What lists would you like to have your name engraved on?

Judging by the profiles that go with lists, listed people are a boring lot. They tend to take seriously activities that don't contribute much to human happiness. Many of the wealthy young made nothing, except a pile of money through property and hedge funds. Many football legends don't seem to have moved far beyond the game. Influential Catholics turn out to be notable for being influential.

But, of course, you shouldn't judge by the profiles. These reflect the values of the list makers as much as those of the listed. Indeed many people avoid lists. In some countries the Rich List draws an avid audience of blackmailers, kidnappers and tax inspectors.

So why do journalists draw up lists? Surely, because people read lists. Lists enlist a coalition of the willing. There may be many dark reasons why readers are drawn to lists, despite their many previous experiences of being bored to tears. We look to see if, by some amazing chance, our own names might be there. We enjoy feeling superior to those whose names do appear. We seek confirmation that we could draw up a much better list.

Perhaps there is a deeper reason. Lists touch on our insecurities about what matters and about whether we matter. A list of influential Catholics might be reassuring Catholics who are down on themselves and self-doubting. The list of serious money makers might make others who believe that money has a value as well as a price feel that one day they too might get lucky and so find themselves entitled to self-esteem.

This might lead you to ask what kind of a list you would like to be on because it might make you feel better about yourself. Some might be tempted by the Queen's Birthday list, or at least by an invitation that they could then knock back.

Others might be tempted by a list that mocked its own pretensions. To be enrolled on the Most Notable Green Catholics List, for example, or on the Most Observant of the Canons of the Council of Nicea List, or on the Slowest Cyclists List might stir to life the sense of the ridiculous which waters the seed of a healthy self-esteem.

But for many the most precious list may be the List of Unnoticed Persons with Encouraging Stories. The kind of stories that make you see the preciousness of the ordinary.

This kind of list is paradoxical. You could only qualify for it if you had no desire to be listed and instinctively tried to avoid the gaze of the Lister. The Lister's gaze would anyway be glazed, because to salute the happily unnoticed would undercut the whole rationale of making lists.

But the list of unnoticed persons also points to a paradox inherent in power, influence and communication. The deepest form of communication is that which addresses the smallest readership — the personal conversation or letter, for example. Communication through books or mass media reaches many more people, but is less deep.

Similarly, the deepest power and influence that any person exerts will be through personal relationships. The greater the reach of the influence that someone exerts, the less deep it is.

So when we hear the story of very ordinary struggling persons whose life is hidden, we recognise the depth of the influence which they had. But by listing them we would obscure and diffuse their influence.

Lists don't really matter much. Still, it would be nice to have been young enough to qualify for the BRW Young Rich List, wouldn't it. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne. Pictured: rich-listed mining entrepreneur Nathan Tinkler.



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Existing comments

Thank you so much for putting me on your email-out list. It gets my day off to a good start - just enough content to make sure I read it all, intelligent but not too erudite for this time of the morning, and far, far more relevant than

Bless your little purple socks.

Alison Cotes | 04 October 2010  

"Obscurity and Competence. That is the Life that is worth living" - Mark TWAIN.

Bob GROVES | 04 October 2010  

Top Ten List of Superlative People

1. The person most ready to walk the extra mile.
2. The person I love the most.
3. The happiest person in the street.
4. The unhappiest person in the world.
5. The person who found again the thing of greatest value they had lost.
6. The person who remembers the true greatness of those who have died.
7. The person with no time to read best lists.
8. The person who tells people to get real by walking on water.
9. The person who keeps listening.
10. The person who is the mostest ever in my humble opinion.

Next week: Top Ten List of the Very Best People Ever Ever.

Desiderius Erasmus | 04 October 2010  

Thank you Andrew for a very thought-provoking, challenging and yet also encouraging article.

I really appreciated reading it and will try to remember its wisdom when next I see a "list" and find myself feeling a little envious!

robert van zetten | 04 October 2010  

Ah that Andy Hamilton - he's top of my list of the unlistable. Long may it last.

Cecily McNeill | 05 October 2010  

On a day when I was making a list of potential new donors to help an Anglican woman undertake a PhD in theology, this article was a great counterpoint. My past donors have been passionate about women in the church and /or theological education. Somehow none of them are rich or famous. But I have great common ground with each donor. That is precious.

Leigh | 08 October 2010  

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