Quality, quantity and…. being a lady?

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Joseph Stalin said “Quantity had a quality all its own.” However, the important point to remember here that he was speaking of Soviet tank production and the size of the Soviet army. Soviet equipment had a reputation for being very simple: simple to make, simple to operate, simple to fix; very suitable for a large but mainly unskilled conscript army.

Those of us who are not planning to invade Western Europe and are therefore unconcerned with conscription and tank production, however, should strive not to equate quality with quantity.

Being new to blogging, I do look around a bit to see what else – and who else – is out there, and I keep finding people I don’t agree with. Actually, this is a good thing – finding people one disagrees with forces one to re-evaluate one’s own views. I like thinking; sometimes it’s like having an adventure in your own head. You get to explore things you’ve never really thought about before, only assumed. And sometimes you find that it’s not the other person who’s wrong – it’s you.

Anyway, back to the topic. Quantity and quality.

Today’s post is prompted by a couple of other blog posts which could be described – by me, at least – as being by people who were prizing quantity over quality, and being made unhappy and stressed thereby.

Case Number One was a cultural studies student who seemed to feel that if she wasn’t reading every book published, watching every film, etc, then she was somehow failing. Books became tasks to be accomplished and ticked off as quickly as possible, rather than enjoyed and understood.

Case Number Two was a housewife who, finding that she was spending several hours a day on social media sites to the detriment of her Real Life lifestyle and relationships, cancelled nearly everything, even the useful ones. Many comments indicated people’s support for this move.

These two people seem to epitomise, to me, the modern emphasis on quantity rather than quality. Being able to say that you’ve read lots of books (even though you may have enjoyed or understood few of them) is better than having read a small number of carefully-selected books.

Having lots of ‘friends’, most of whom you hardly know, is seen as better than having only a very few ‘friends’ but whose company and contact you value.

It’s better to say lots but communicate nothing of value, than it is to stay silent until you have something of importance to say.

How did this happen? When did it become de rigeur to tell the world what you had for breakfast? Why?

I would suggest that this is due to two factors: ease, and our desire to be famous.

Everybody, I should think, deep down in our hearts, wants to be a celebrity – even a little bit. Certainly bloggers do; otherwise why would we post our thoughts on the internet? We must believe that what we write is so important and interesting that it should be shared with the whole world. Otherwise, we’d just talk to friends, or write a diary. And social media, of course, make sharing our every passing thought so easy.

Back in the old days, communicating with someone who wasn’t close enough to talk to was difficult. People only did it when they had something important to say: Immanuel Kant was a great communicator; he almost never left Konigsberg, but he corresponded widely by letter. But then, his thoughts were so important that they made him a celebrity (in philosophy circles, anyway). If you didn’t have anything important to say, then sending a letter was too much trouble and too expensive.

Even when the telephone arrived, and still later when everyone had one, you still had to pay for every minute you spent on the phone. So you’d only ring someone up when you had something significant to say; if it was a general ‘catch-up’ call without any specific object in mind, it was safe to say that the person on the other end would be someone to whom you were extraordinarily close, and regardless of the words, what you were really saying was ‘I love you’.

But now, we can communicate with everyone, and since we mostly pay monthly for internet and phone access, we don’t have to watch what we say. So we can kid ourselves that the world is hanging on our every word, desperate to hear what we had for breakfast and whether we’re going to the gym now or later.

Communication has turned from quality to quantity.

But what should we do about it? Is there anything we can do?

I think there is. The first thing to do, as with practically every problem, is to recognise that there is a problem, and then define it. Only then can you work out a solution; quite often, defining the problem suggests a solution.

If you feel that you are constantly reading books but not having time to enjoy them, like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland running hard just to stay in the same place, then acknowledge that you can’t read everything – and then work out what you absolutely need to read, and then what you would like to read on top of that. And ignore everything else.

Social media – how much of your ‘communicating’ is just meaningless fluff? How much real information do you impart? What do social media actually add to your life, really? Social media are tools to be used; if they’re not useful, drop them. If they are useful, keep them. But only use them when they’re the appropriate tool for the job.

Acknowledge that fame and fortune are unfortunately not everybody’s destiny. And if you are destined to be famous, it will probably not be because you routinely tell the world what you have for breakfast. At least, not unless you make a habit of eating live snakes or something equally interesting.

We need to concentrate on quality in our lives: in our communication, our reading, in every aspect. If we go for quality rather than quantity, then we should be happier and less stressed, and also have time for more (quality) pursuits.

And that brings me to the ‘ladylike’ bit of the title. What’s that about? Being a lady is all about staying at home wearing a pretty dress, looking after your pretty children, while your husband goes out and does Important Men Things, isn’t it?

No; actually, that’s the conflation of two ideas: the idea of being a lady, and the old-fashioned notion of a woman’s place. Being a lady is not about what you do: it’s about how. The old saying “A lady is never rude… by accident” springs to mind. A lady can be as appallingly offensive as anyone else – but never by accident, only when the target deserves it, and always with style. It’s about quality rather than quantity: a really well-crafted, well-deserved insult has far more impact, especially coming from someone who is usually very polite.

If you Google ‘how to be a lady’, then you get lots of results, many of which have the same theme. It’s all about quality over quantity. If you are with someone, give them your attention; don’t chat on your mobile phone or update your Facebook status. Don’t burden people with personal information about you that they don’t want or need (who cares what you had for breakfast? Unless it was live snakes, of course. Then I’d be interested). Even personal possessions: have relatively few, but high quality, clothes – you’ll always look nice, you’ll spend less money in the end (quality lasts longer), and you’ll find it easier to decide what to wear.

If you Google ‘how to be a gentleman’, then you get lots of results too, and they all have the same theme as the ‘how to be a lady’ results – just in different words. It’s quality over quantity, all over again.

So maybe we ought to be looking with a bit more attention at being ladylike and gentlemanly? Not because we want to return to the days of Jane Austen, but from the purely selfish perspective of clearing the clutter – both physical and mental – from our lives and concentrating on what really matters?

I think I might give it a try myself, and see how I do.

And the next post is on social media, and the ideas I’ve had for making sure that you reap the advantages without wasting your life online.

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