Put It There

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   February 28, 2019

I’m sure you’ve come across the expression, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” It makes a lot of sense. It sums up the whole idea of neatness and order. You can’t put things away properly, if you don’t know where they go. And you can’t find anything very easily, unless you know where it’s supposed to be.

But there are levels of orderliness. At first glance, everything may appear shipshape (an expression reflecting the need to be very orderly in a confined space.) But going below the surface may be like opening the proverbial can of worms. And digging deeper still, you may find you’ve opened the legendary Pandora’s Box, which supposedly contained all the evils of the world.

People coming to my headquarters for the first time, often exclaim “How orderly everything looks!” But I know that, if they were to open a single file-cabinet, they would find a disorderly collection of old and new files, each containing a disorderly collection of papers. It all needs to be sorted, and much of it should be thrown away. But who has the time or patience or interest or incentive? It’s much easier (while there is space) to just keep adding new material, than to do anything with all the old accumulated stuff.

I once satirized this craving for at least superficial orderliness: “BEFORE BURNING THESE PAPERS, LET ME MAKE SURE THEY’RE IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER.”

You may think that computers have solved all these problems. And indeed, it is now possible to alphabetize a long list, with breathtaking speed. But no such tricks can cure the disorder of one’s own mind, which is simply reflected in the contents of your computer. Like our old “folders” and “files” whose names they appropriated, computers constitute only a deeper level in the essential disorder of the Universe.

Yet “order” of some kind remains an ideal. Why, for example, do we venerate the concept of “Law and Order”? Because laws by themselves are useless without an orderly framework within which they can operate. “Order in court!” is the stern reminder that the machinery of the Law is unable to function in a milieu of chaos.

That’s why a book called Robert’s Rules of Order is one of the most revered and frequently consulted publications in America. Other countries and cultures have their own equivalents – but the basic subject is simply how to conduct meetings. Since it stems from practices developed over centuries by the British House of Commons, the generally-applied term is “Parliamentary Procedure.”

Similarly, there are books with the rules of card games and other games, now published under the generic name of Hoyle, in tribute to an 18th Century authority, Edmond Hoyle (just as any modern dictionary can now legally call itself “Webster’s” in recognition of the great American lexicographer, Noah Webster).

Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are no such clear-cut guidelines for human relations in general, no rule-books for the conduct of friendships, much less for “love affairs” – apart from the conversation-stopper that “All’s fair in love and war.”

Speaking of war, there have in fact, in recent centuries, been many serious attempts to regulate the conduct of warfare – although that seems almost a contradiction in terms, since we all know that war is what happens when attempts at order break down. 

It is much more pleasant to consider other expressions about orderliness – such as “apple pie order.” How nice to contemplate a well-constructed apple pie. But I’m sorry to tell you that those words probably come from a mis-rendering into English of a French expression meaning “neatly folded linen.” 

And what about “getting your ducks in a row?” There are various theories, but the one I like best is the simplest: that a mother duck likes to see her ducklings walking in a straight row behind her.

And finally, sticking with our feathered friends, we have “pecking order,” a term which has been around since some German scientists propounded it in 1927. We all have a general idea that it refers to a hierarchy of status, as observed among chickens, i.e. who can “lawfully” peck whom. What interests me is that the establishment of a pecking order is considered a positive feature (at least among chickens) since it makes for an orderly community.

Now it’s time for you, as an orderly person, to put this article in its place – and I can only hope that, if it’s the wastebasket, you put it in there very neatly.


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