At some stage in our lives we’ll see one. No matter which country we live in or language we speak, it’s just a matter of time. Sooner or later we come face to face with a Top 10 List of something: songs, worst films, strangest surnames, Turkish restaurants…
And now there’s even a website for them, which includes the Top 10 Bizarre Features of Architecture (no. 9: Manchester civil justice centre), Top 10 Reasons to Love Viruses (6: they drive scientists crazy!), Top 10 Irritating Phrases People Use (no. 1: ‘at the end of the day’) and Top 10 Least Intelligent Dogs (you really have to see the accompanying photos for this one!).
There seems to be no area untouched by this mania. On the one hand it does give us an insight into the breadth of human experience and the world we inhabit, but that very breadth reveals the inherent flaw, when we contrast this with the fact that neither the Torah nor the Talmud contain any. No Top 10 Biblical Battles or Top 10 Temple Sacrifices.
Because creating a hierarchy or – even more dangerously – compiling a limited list of ideas, carries the inherent danger of self-determination; after all it’s my list and I’m the one validating it. This makes it temporary at best and meaningless at worst. Every individual will see it their way, so it changes with the wind. However when you are faced with the truth, you cannot decide things on a whim nor compact them into convenient sound-bites. Which is why the 10 Commandments are not the only ones, they are simply the first (and the root of the other 603).
To illustrate the problem, there’s an annual list of the Top 10 Worst Dictators. In 2009, some of last year’s people are off the list, not because they no longer dictate, but because they have been outdone by others and there’s only room for 10. Truth however, would require the length of list to be determined by facts, not convenience. [Surprisingly the UN Human Rights Commission didn’t feel it necessary to devote any time, to condemning any of them at Durban II (?!)].
Yet there still remains something endearing about these lists. They capture our attention and sometimes our hearts if only for a moment.