When you tell someone that you like to read (as all writers should, and usually do), their first response is usually somewhere along the lines of, “Oh! What’s your favorite book?”
Now, they mean well. We all mean well when we’re asking someone for their favorite of this thing or that. What we are really saying is, “I want to get to know you. Tell me more!” Or, in the case of books, “I’m interested in starting a new book and I’d like to get your opinion on what I should choose.”
These types of questions and ways of thinking, when extrapolated out to all areas of our lives, leads to a problematic view of the world. When we think about things in terms of “favorites,” what we are really thinking is “What wasn’t good enough to make it up there?” and eliminating from there until we come up with a “favorite” thing. Yet, if we accept that our appreciation of books, for instance, is always going to be related to where we were in our lives, our emotional well-being, and our responsibilities/opinions/values at the time we read it, then there is no way to accurately judge how good the book was separate from our engagement with it. Hence, any picking of “favorites” is going to be scewed. Forcing ourselves to pick favorites regardless ignores our own engagement with the things in our lives.
Even more important, picking favorites leads us to believe that some things are better than others. We pick our favorites and then congregate together to celebrate shared favorite things. We hear only others saying how that is also their favorite thing, so when we meet someone who doesn’t know that thing or (gasp!) doesn’t like that thing, we are shocked. We become antagonistic. We feel threatened. We tell them that they’re wrong and we refuse to listen to their point of view. We other those people immediately simply because they do not share the same favorite things. We see that person as unenlightened, maybe even unintelligent. We call them names designed to put them down and make us feel big. In our eyes, that person becomes a little less of a proper human. They are doing the human thing wrong.
All because they did not love our favorite thing.
Favoritism is a slippery slope to seeing others as less human than oneself. It opens the door to prejudice, hatred, and misunderstandings. Perhaps it is even the root cause of such huge issues as racism, sexism, and classism. For these things can only exist in a world that understands hierarchies. Hierarchies that we feel deep inside us and project out onto the world.
So I am no longer calling favorites. I no longer want to see the world in terms of hierarchies.
What do you think about hierarchical thinking? Do you tend to eschew favoritism, or embrace it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.