In recent times, I have been exploring an interesting concept and realized that the way I think about it is contradicting in some ways but rational in others, and both very revealing and educational overall.
As I was creating my top 20 song list, I realized that my top 5 or top 10 songs from my list of my top 20 songs wouldn't necessarily be my actual top 5 or top 10. The top 20 list was created under the condition that I am able to have 20 songs on the list. If I can only include 10 songs, certain songs ranked 11-20 might make that top 10. When I can have 20 songs, I might actually like other songs more for various reasons and rank them in the top 10 on the list as a result. This obviously doesn't make sense; it is undoubtedly contradicting because I am essentially saying that I would put songs that I like less onto a more exclusive list. After dissecting my reasoning, I realized that I was changing what I valued based on the different conditions. I was automatically changing the criteria. It was a natural process, where it felt “right” to rank a song in the top 10 of the top 20 list but felt “wrong” to include that same song in a standalone top 10 list. Essentially, the lists would be labeled the same (my top # songs) but they were actually different lists because songs would be judged differently for each list.
It's like having friends you have really good times with. However, if you could only spend time with one of them, it probably isn't the person you have the most fun with. It might be someone who's more reliable, more empathetic, better at giving advice, better at listening, or shared more meaningful moments with you. Depending on how you are interpreting the question, they are different and would naturally have different answers. How do you define who your best friend is or who your best friends are? How do you pick a single best friend if you could only spend time with one of your friends? You can at look at who is the most fun, most reliable, most empathetic, or best at listening and say who your best friend is casually but you can easily look at all these same factors and pick a different best friend once given the condition that you could only spend time with a single friend.
For subjective questions like these, which people can interpret in many ways and set flexible criteria for, people often are not conscious of how exactly they are setting their criteria. For a lot of people, that shift in criteria happens quite frequently and usually subconsciously. From exploring this concept and reflecting on my experiences ranking things subjectively, I understand that I would benefit from descriptively defining the broad subjective questions and being extremely clear with how I set the criteria. If anything, creating multiple lists based on different interpretations of a question and setting different criteria would be a simple solution to those seemingly contradicting scenarios.