Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Why I hate the bucket list

The bucket list is, in essence, an admirable thing. If you knew you had six months to live, what would be the things you'd really want to do in that time?

Would you read War and Peace, or Ulysses? Visit the Galapagos, or climb Everest? Or make peace with the family of that auntie your side of the family never speak to, and no one can remember why?

However, most bucket lists don't look like that. They look like this:
  • Macchu Picchu
  • Taj Mahal
  • Everest
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Venice
And I have a problem with that. Several problems in fact.

First problem: it's not personal. It's just another consumer list, like '1000 places to go before you die,' which, if you think about it, is itselfa depersonalised bucket list.

A personal bucket list might have some of these sites on it. But it's more likely to have a theme, or a number of themes, depending on the person. For me, it would include a couple of deserts and some far off the beaten track Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, Lahaul, and Arunachal Pradesh. For one of my friends, it would include a couple of Formula One racing tracks and two Belgian breweries. For another, it would be filled with places he'd visited through the years and wanted to see one more time.

Second problem: it devalues everything else. In particular, it devalues spontaneity. (I've just seen a bucket list template which includes 'got married' and 'got divorced' on it. Frankly, if I had six months to live, I wouldn't go out and find someone to marry just so I could divorce them within the timeframe and tick the items off. But the creator of the list obviously thinks I should.)

I once sat for an hour watching a Buddhist monk create butter sculptures in a room in Spituk monastery, hearing the song of the ploughmen drifting up from the fields in the Indus valley below. That memory still fills me with joy; the Taj Mahal, on the other hand, was just a building. That's the problem with bucket lists.

And the third problem? They're such good vehicles for marketing. The places you have to see "before you die". (Well, put it this way, I'd be extremely interested if any PR sent me a story with places to see after I was dead.) And as always, they'll be places where someone has a luxury tour, a package holiday, or a resort - a way of neatly ticking off these items without actually learning anything or being challenged.

Oh, and the fourth problem. Why wait until you're diagnosed with something life-threatening to find the time to travel? (And then of course you probably can't, because you won't be able to get travel insurance.) Do it now!

I think, really, it's time to kick the bucket list.

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