“Little boxes on the hillside,
 Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
 Little boxes on the hillside,
 Little boxes all the same.”
-Malvina Reynolds

Think of when you’ve met somebody for the first time, or perhaps you’ve known them briefly enough that you don’t know much about one another. You are still trying to figure each other out; what makes them tick, what they believe, how similar they are to you, etc. Let’s say in this instance a particular sentiment is professed. This may have you instantly formulate conclusions and generalizations about this person, who they are, and what they believe. This may also affect your view of them, or perhaps even make you decide whether or not this is a person you wish to associate with.

It could have been anything. Perhaps they told you their political or religious leanings, expressed a philosophy, mentioned their favorite team, referred to their socioeconomic class, used certain types of language, made mention of their sexuality, or told a joke. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t, or maybe you reserved judgement because it wasn’t something you felt particularly strong about.

Let’s also then entertain that the person may not have made a direct mention to any particular bias, opinion, or controversial subject but that you instead interpreted something which, in your curiosity, has lead you to a conclusion. You might have become more inquisitive to be sure, or perhaps you haven’t in keeping with your initial assumption.

In that moment we put each other into labels and boxes. Now, this is not to say it’s necessarily a negative thing. In fact, people are usually quite proud of the boxes they voluntarily put themselves in and enjoy letting people know exactly who and what they are. Sometimes people fit nicely into these commonly defined compartments, and often by conscious design. We respond positively to tribal attitudes where we rally with those who identify with us and rail against those we consider opponents or threats to our identity. In this way, pronouncing our very identity can sometimes purposely invite conflict to demonstrate the superiority of our concept.

The more passionate and attached we are to our labels, the stronger our objections to an external view. We become more accusatory and suspicious of the motives others have, even in absence of supportive reasoning. The world gets a little more black and white, believing that if one is not with you they are against you and all it can take to inspire such feelings is for somebody to not agree with your every premise. Even if those feelings are subtle and not acted upon, to label somebody completely is to dismiss the potential of their individuality.

By the same token we all find it easier to forgive and rationalize the faults in our boxes while condemning the faults in others. This uproots objectivity and champions subjective reality, ensuring that our boxes are protected from harms way, although one could suggest this does more harm than good. The truth is that no movement, philosophy, or bias is bullet-proof and immune from questioning and objection. In fact, I would argue prodding one’s beliefs is the surest way to strengthen them. Moreover, if you question your preconceptions and you find them to be ill-advised, I should hope we’d all want to know that, as well.

Before I go further, I understand the slippery slope I’ve just tried to impossibly climb. As I spoke about in my last post about control and controlling one’s emotions, there is a very strong attachment we have to our beliefs. They are so sacred to us because everything else can be taken; our loved one’s, our property, our wealth, our health, our jobs, etc. The one thing that nobody can take away is our thoughts and ideas. History is overflowing with examples of people whose ideas were so firmly entrenched and cherished that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for them.

Before I come across as branding people as intolerant, holier-than-thou, close-minded bigots, let me qualify my position. I don’t believe every person behaves in this manner. I’ve seen many inspiring examples to the contrary. Even the most passionate of us find it much easier to label and dismiss an entire group of people than we do to be confronted by an individual and have to support our misconceptions. There are seemingly always these types of people we know personally and view them as the “exception to the rule”.

For me personally, I find very few things as satisfying as showing another person that they cannot simply pigeonhole me based on their assumptions of what I believe and why I might believe so. I’ve learned that valuable lesson in my younger years by being intellectually pounded for my ignorance and egregious postulation. As humiliated as I could feel, I treat them as some of the best lessons I’ve ever received. When confronted, the boxes I put myself and others into were coming undone at the corners, exposing the lack of contents I had used to form suppositions.

The important thing to realize is that opinions can come from a good or a bad place. Just because somebody thinks differently than you does not make them wrong, and even if you believe with all of your being that they are wrong, it does not make them a bad person or make their intentions less honorable. Moreover, somebody may simply lack the eloquence to express themselves, but that alone should not stand as an indictment of their philosophy. The ability to communicate effectively is very powerful, though nobody should suppose accomplished oratory defines right or wrong in itself. Most often we just want what is best for ourselves and others, believing that our opinions would be to the benefit of everybody, regardless of how we present them.

To label and dismiss somebody is to cheat yourself of exploring the unique way they arrived at their conclusions. Sharing your disagreements is such a beautiful and rewarding experience that to then purposely learn nothing by closing yourself to those who might inspire you to think in favor of those who won’t is an awful waste. I understand that I like discourse more than most people I know but harnessing any measure of prejudice against one another by not discussing our differences openly, intently, and politely, we only serve to continue our animosity and distrust. Plus, I’m sure you would discover we all agree on a lot more than we think.

I prefer to define myself, not have my labels do it for me.

Advertisements