I was recently rejected by a popular parenting blog for a piece I wanted to guest post. I was OK with the rejection. I think anybody who puts words onto paper and expects people to read them and like it has to be accustomed to rejection. However, I thought the piece was pretty good. It had gotten a great response on my own blog, it was about a timely parenting topic, and it was the type of story I myself would want to read about. What surprised me was a single sentence that suggested maybe I submit another piece, a short "list type" posting about a parenting topic.
I instantly knew what they were looking for. This particular site wanted "Top Ten/Eight/Fifteen Reasons Why" [insert contentious topic here] type articles that are popping up everywhere and about every topic imaginable. "Top 10 Reasons to Breastfeed." "Top 15 Reasons to Stay at Home." "Top 8 Reasons to Co-Sleep." You name the topic, it has been covered in a top reasons list that can easily be shared to spite those who disagree with you on Facebook.
I know because I wrote one of them myself. This article, titled "10 Reasons Why I Will Continue to Give my Children Handheld Devices," instantly went viral and still gets more views per hour than anything else I write gets in an entire week. Yet it is one of my least favorite pieces I have written.
I didn't have to think twice about whether I should reply back to the blog site and offer up my 10 Reasons article, or even offer to create another one. I knew after writing one of these lists, and being exposed to hundreds of them daily, I was done.
Here are my 10 reasons why I am done writing, and reading, 10 reasons why lists.
1) Life isn't a debate class.
That is what these lists remind me of. Remember your first time debating a topic? How you spent hours pouring over research and organizing your arguments? I remember by the time I gave my presentation I didn't even really care about the topic anymore. All I cared about was being right. The research had been helpful in forming an opinion, but the actual act of taking such a strong stance consumed me with competitiveness and an underlying drive to win.
2) Dialogue isn't possible.
When we take a debate class approach to a topic, people don't really want to converse about it. Instead, they want to challenge you or agree with you. Very rarely did I have someone ask questions or want more information. For the most part I had people respond who championed my cause or who thought I was a horrible person. Not much to talk about.
3) It turns out, there isn't just one way to do everything.
Especially when it comes to child rearing. You might have your top 10 reasons why you cut your kid's sandwich into fun figures. That is fantastic. You should Pinterest it. But let's not subject everyone else to our lists as if they are the universal truth. My kids don't even like sandwiches.
4) I can't tell posts apart when they all start with "10 Reasons Why."
Is this the funny one about being a child in the 80s or the super serious one about why we should eat more hummus? Who knows because they all have almost identical titles!
5) My attention span is becoming shortened to bullet point length.
Which leads to #6.
6) Headlines are all people actually read.
I don't think anyone gets to the supporting texts underneath each headline. I'm testing that theory right now.
7) Because nobody reads the middle numbers.
Can you remember the #7 reason for anything? I can't remember numbers 6-9 on things I actually wrote.
8) Stories matter.
I'm a librarian so I have to sneak stories into everything. But this is something I really do feel strongly about. I believe in the life-altering power of stories. Not in lists. We should look to the people behind these lists and ask them to share an experience with us. That would be something I'd consider changing my mind for.
I love research. I love stats. However, I realize they can be used to justify just about anything. If there is an issue that could actually be summed up in 10 bullet points it isn't really an issue. If it was that simple, we would probably be agreed about it. Except the hummus one. Why aren't you guys just eating your hummus by now?
10) We've lost the humanity behind the topic.
This is really what it comes down to. There are people behind every decision that is made. People with histories, backstories, and lots of factors that weigh into parenting, or any other life choice. We don't need to create more lists to guide people. We need to create more humility to listen to people.
I know I just broke my own rule and created yet another "10 Reasons Why" post, but I promise it is the last one you'll see from me. My sincere apologies for adding to the problem. I'm so burned out on lists that I don't even want to use one at the grocery store anymore.
Only stories, shared experiences, and real dialogue for me. Even if it is about the type of yogurt I need to grab.