The best animal on the planet is the giant panda. It also just so happens to be my favorite animal. Perhaps that is irrelevant and entirely unnoteworthy. But if you’ve ever seen a panda eat bamboo in the rain, panda cubs sleeping together or watched the live panda cam from the Atlanta Zoo, you would understand that it is not simply to have a favorite animal.
Instead, it’s a sincere admiration for something. Often the arbitrary, seemingly insignificant parts of people such as their favorite color, plant, car, musical, Just Dance edition, poet, artist or insect is a window into someone else’s humanity. Although it would not be fair to make character judgments or concrete conclusions about a person based on their “arbitrary” favorites (except for maybe their favorite sports team), learning and remembering these things is the first gate one must pass when getting to know someone.
People have entire lives and experiences, and memories outside of the point in time you met them. The “arbitrary” favorites of a person are a part of who they are and their formation as a person. Our favorites and preferences are something we carry with us throughout our lives. Some people’s “arbitrary” favorites have been the same their entire lives, while others have been forged and sharpened by exposure to new things and people.
If you mention someone’s favorite color or insect, it can summon associated memories and history in their mind. Currently, society within the United States can be hyper-individualistic and surface level. However, learning “surface level” things about people only stays that way if you think about these things as isolated and without roots. They connect to a deeper personhood and sense of identity within an individual.
To know and learn another person’s “arbitrary” favorites is like a 7-day free trial for who they are as a person, so perhaps no one cares what your favorite animal is, but they ought to.