Friday, 27 December 2019

Why listing is futile

There has been a bit of chat on Twitter over the past few days on the subject of listing. As a lapsed lister I have been able to sit back and chortle at the correspondence, safe in the knowledge that, having seen the light, I can enjoy the angst and pain of those who still find themselves with ‘listing fever’.

The lister will never  - NEVER - be happy, and will never feel content. A mad two-day excursion to successfully see a Steller’s Eider on the Western Isles will, no doubt, produce a moment or two of joy, but will be short-lived, as the lister’s attention is drawn to the next target. This is summed up beautifully by writer Eckhart Tolle:

'The ego identifies with having, but its identification in having is a relatively shallow and short-lived one. Concealed within it remains a deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction, of incompleteness, of  "not enough". "I don't have enough yet", by which the ego really means, "I am not enough yet". As we have seen, having - the concept of ownership - is a fiction created by the ego to give itself solidity and permanency and make itself stand out, make itself special. Since you cannot find yourself through having, however, there is another more powerful drive underneath it that pertains to the structure of the ego: the need for more, which we could also call "wanting". No ego can last for long without the need for more. Therefore, wanting keeps the ego alive much more than having. The ego wants to want more than it wants to have. And so the shallow satisfaction of having is always replaced by more wanting. This is the psychological need for more, that is to say, more things to identify with. It is an addictive need, not an authentic one."

So there we have it. Listing is a downward spiral, a journey with no happy ending, a quest that cannot give you a sense of fulfilment. You have been warned...

9 comments:

Jonathan Lethbridge said...

Lucky you don't go in for panlisting or anything like that then...

Steve Gale said...

Ah.... I see my folly there Jono...

Skev said...

I'm trying to rationale 'a moment or two of joy, but will be short-lived' with opportunities to roll out Wallcreeper again .... endless joy with that one ;-)

Steve Gale said...

Glad you mentioned Wallcreeper Skev, but which one.

Really pleased to see you in action again Skev. I know what you’ve been through. Top man.

Dylan Wrathall said...

Steve,
I would make the observation that "listing" in whatever form has a place in the development of any individual who comes out the other side with a retained interest and the knowledge that it was simply a phase within the bigger picture?
I think that the vast majority of guys, certainly those within our blogging community, can relate to that? - Dyl

Steve Gale said...

Hi Dyl, you are right, my post was tongue-in-cheek, but on reading it back appears otherwise! I keep many lists, I maintain them but don’t chase them. Happy with that. Btw, I have emailed you.

Gibster said...

It may have been tongue-in-cheek, but you're quite right - it does appear otherwise. Listing for the sake of having a large number to your name is, admittedly, pretty pointless and suggests something important is missing from that person's life. But if you use it as a way of constantly honing your skills, your recognition levels, your fieldcraft, your microscopy work, to fill in databases, to submit to national recording schemes, if it allows you to pick up on trends, write papers, discover new or unusual behaviours.... if any of that is true, it makes a mockery of your 'pearl of Gale wisdom' as written in the closing lines of the blog above.

Mark Wilson said...

Listing is just a sub-genre of collecting. Stamps, trains, butterflies, Munros... on the face of it, obsessions based on these seem quite different from one another. And they do of course differ, in the skills they require, and the nature of the activities they inspire. But at the core of these hobbies is the same drive to build a collection, for personal satisfaction and the recognition of others. There are precious few listers (or other kinds of collectors) who don't enjoy the admiration of their peers.

That doesn't mean listing has to be entirely pointless or self-serving. As Gibster points out, the desire to find and identify new birds can foster learning. But the kind of birding that focuses principally on new and rare species is poorly suited to informing national surveys or furthering our understanding of bird ecology. Many listers are scientists, surveyors or conservationists. But listing does little or nothing directly for these pursuits.

Steve Gale said...

Seth and Mark - thank you for your most interesting and thoughtful comments. I feel a ‘Part 2’ coming on...