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Picking favorites

February 21st, 2013

“Hey, Streaks! What’s your favorite color?” went the ice-breaking greeting of former John Carroll track captain Tony Mihalic. Or, at least, that’s Managing Editor Brian Bayer’s impression of the most enthusiastic Blue Streak I’ve ever known. My memory is either not strong enough or has been corrupted by the caricatures of Tony over the years that I’m incapable of remembering differently.

It is beyond a doubt that most, if not all, of us have been subject to the tactic used everywhere from college orientation to flirtacious small talk with the object of one’s desire. Asking a person to declare his or her favorite something is an easy, default approach for easing the tension of silence and finding pieces to the puzzle of determining who a person is and for what they stand.

Musicians, food, movies and sports teams are all commonly interesting categories of favorites. Discovering them can bring us closer or farther from each other. We might find that our favorite soccer team is rivals with a friend’s or that a mutual love for shepherds pie and The Lumineers can provide the first connection needed to pursue a potential husband or wife.

Favorites seem great, don’t they? They sure can be. However, upon exhaustive employment of this conversational tool, it can be found superficial or even disruptive to a conversation’s potential. Perhaps you just don’t have much to say about the someone’s favorite book being the Bible, or you could be an atheist, possibly leading you to avoid the Bible reader all together. You could have absolutely no interest in a person who adores the film “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2” or in utter doubt that such a person exists. Though favorites are intended to engage interest, they can also destroy it.

Asking about favorites is an easy conversational tool because of its objective nature. This raises a problem I’ve always had when it comes to choosing favorites: How can you pick just one? There are so many variables in this crazy life that can influence how we perceive something, altering what our favorite things can be. Let’s take the most well-known list of favorites ever, for instance. Whiskers on kittens can be cute, but not when that kitten is biting me. Brown paper packages can be exciting, like getting new things often is. Yet, that package is not so enjoyable when it contains an agent for a terrorist plot. Snowflakes staying on my nose and eyelashes can be beautiful, but not when my plane crashes in a boreal forest and I’m fighting frigid temperatures to survive. The point is that finding favorite things is very conditional.

Deciding one’s favorite band, song or movie is perhaps the toughest thing for me to decide personally. At a given time, I’m feeling energetic; Animal Collective might top my list. When I’m going through a rough patch, Band of Horses might accompany my battle through things. Or, if things are even worse, I might call up my pal Johannes Brahms. Finding a favorite movie is much easier if narrowed down by genre, but that is even subject to change.

There is a paradox that comes with finding favorites. What is one to do once they (or at least a selection of situational favorites) has been found? There is a kind of settlement that comes with favorites. It is an attachment between yourself and the song, object, etc. The question that many of us subconsciously struggle with is where to go once favorites are established? Though we might want to stick with them, there is an urge within most humans to explore and experience new things. Abandoning a favorite might bring a struggle with nostalgia; loving something for a long time might make one feel an obligation to continue loving that thing, though its place in that person’s life might have sailed away long ago.

The principles of struggle with establishing favorites and finding new ones extends to the larger problems of life. There are things to which we might be attached that we’ve attained over many years, or perhaps that has been established over the entire course of human history. Just as everything that has ever lived has died, everything that has ever had a place has also lost it. Having a continued quest to find something better is never a negative thing. Though fragments of our past might drift away, they will always be a part of who we’ve become, and their absence makes way for a whole new set of opportunities for improvement and enlightenment. Choose wisely.