Importance of importance
Early in my career, I was in charge of a nascent computer department at a city medical center. Paper records ruled at that time and there was a natural reluctance among the older established docs, to implement computerization of their operations. There happened to be enough work in laying the groundwork of basic operations, (i.e., wiring, workstation hardware and software installations and updates, etc.) before it became necessary to address these hard-to-convince doctors. There was one exception though. One proactive department head wanted to proceed quickly. When I mentioned that we had to prioritize our tasks, she told me, “Oh that’s simple. Just make all my tasks first priority.”
Of course, giving all tasks first priority is exactly the same as having no priority list at all.
Why importance, all of a sudden?
My wife and I will be moving cross-country in a couple of months to be close to our grandchildren, where I’ll be able to be a part of their lives. I also will be able to observe the blooming of a new sibling relationship from the perch of grandparenthood.
We are privileged to be able to leave a good portion of our stuff behind, as we plan to return within a year or two. My wife received this advice from our son-in-law, “Just take the important stuff.” Seems like a no brainer, right? It must seem so to our daughter and son-in-law. But there are several differences between them and us: 1) they have moved every couple of years, without fail; 2) they are not as sentimental as us; 3) they do not collect things; 4) they do not have 25-30 years of accumulation.
Bring only what is important, must seem like a trivial and obvious thing to do, but it really got me thinking. How do I rank things of importance? Pots and pans, bedding, clothes, chairs and tables are important, of course, so they can go. What else?
My problem is my wide range of interest during my life – not serial, but cumulative. While some of my interests recede, they can surface at a moment’s notice. Rarely do I totally lose interest in something.
Combining my interests with my tendency to collect, I have accumulated in-depth, esoteric collections of: 1) sheet music, music books and instruments; 2) books about painting; 3) books about philosophy; 4) books about neuroanatomy; 5) books about photography; 6) books of photographs – many signed by authors; 7) thousands of my own photographs and negatives; 8) artwork of others; 9) books about psychology, neurology, psychiatry and autism; 10) books about artists’ books; 11) books about artists; 12) books about writing; 13) books about book binding; 14) science fiction books; 15) art supplies: watercolors, watercolor paper, pencils, ink pens; 16) camera equipment, etc.
I must find a way to rank importance. But most of my interests are interwoven. I find cross connections in many of the areas that hold my interest. For example, the creative act of painting can be addressed through the lens of neurology and psychology. Inspiration can be gotten from leafing through art books, science books, philosophy books, and so on.
But if everything is so important to me, isn’t it the same as everything being equally unimportant?
I learn a lot from books, in fact, just yesterday I was reading The Sunday Philosophy Club  a mystery book, and came across a word I never knew: akrasia. It means ‘the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will’.
I hope I am strong enough to judge what is most important and to follow through.
 Smith, A.M. The Sunday Philosophy Club New York: Pantheon Books, 2004