To-do lists are fine for small tasks: buy stamps, drop off the dry cleaning, start the dishwasher. But to-do lists don’t really work for long-range goals: increase your muscle mass, be more patient, pursue world peace.
Blogs and Facebook feeds are filled with articles and posts featuring lists.
The 40 must-see movies this fall.
Seven foods you should never eat.
20 gadgets you’ve been using the wrong way.
These lists offer harmless diversions. They can be informative or funny or lame. A quick skim of the points or the photo gallery gives you a brief break from more important matters.
|Winslow Homer's "The New Novel"|
There are some kinds of lists that I find at once tempting and toxic. These lists resemble instructions for being a better person or parent or spouse. If you just follow these steps, the list maker claims, you will get the spiritual, moral, relational result you desire.
Seven steps to being a happier person (or twelve, or ten, or five, or fourteen).
Ten, twenty-five, or eight steps to be a better person. (There’s also a list of 75, but who has the patience?)
And parenting? Ten steps, eights steps, nine steps, twelve steps.
These lists suggest that you can be the moral, spiritual person you yearn to be by learning a series of DO’s and DON’Ts and sticking to them. For most of us, common sense says that spiritual and moral growth involves more than this.
Life is complex, textured, nuanced. No list of instructions could possibly cover the variety of situations we encounter. And yet, this doesn’t stop some religious leaders for advocating for precisely such a list. That’s how some people look at the Bible.