Sunday, February 15, 2009

Boxes, how I hate thee

I've only recently really realized how many boxes there are, how many people base everything on those boxes, and how very ingrained the idea of putting everything in categories is. Just among teenagers, especially those in high school, you find perhaps the most obvious categorizing going on. There's the preps, jocks, nerds, geeks, emos, punks, goths, gangsters, wangsters... There's the "smart" people, not necessarily synonymous with nerds, who get good grades, the losers who try yet get bad grades, or simply don't give a fuck. Everyone is judged, evaluated, and slotted neatly into whatever box is deemed to fit best. But even beyond high school, you find just as many boxes.

Everyone, teens and adults, are judged on ethnicity, income level, job field, political views, on what their families are like. How you talk, dress, and act are under constant scrutiny, no matter how old you are. And then, of course, there's the matter of age. Few boxes are so final and unbudging as that of age. For some reason, the number of years you've spent on this planet is considered a great judge, and predictor, of how you'll behave. There are certain things teens WILL do, certain ways they WILL behave, simply because they're teens. Yet because teens are expected to be wild, reckless, and generally stupid, in some ways we're lucky, because we can "get away" with lots f things simply because people expect teens to be unpredictable, simply by the fact that teens ARE wild and "uncontrollable"! I think it'sworse for those who've passed the teen markers, and are then supposed, and rigidly expected, to "act like adults", which in most people's lexicon's means to stop having fun. How would someone react if they saw a grown man racing down the street in wild abandon, laughing for the sheer joy of it? Why, horror of course! And what would people think if an adult dressed in an especially eccentric style (or should say what DO people think when they see the few adults who do)? Again, horror, and often seemingly disgust.

My big question is this: why? Why is everyone expected to act in a certain way, in a predictable way, and why are those who deviate from the predictable greeted with horror, disgust, and fear? Because it does often look like the reactions are motivated by underlying fears, fear of looking outside of their neatly plotted and well understood little worlds. Fear of seeing things a different way. Is it just me, or is one of the huge problems with our society that fear of differences? Even among those who don't seem to fit into many specifuc categories, labelers still, sadly, have little trouble dealing with them. They're simply labeled freaks, or something similarly nasty, denoting those who refuse to follow the norm.

The way the rest of the world relates to someone is often based entirely on the boxes it's deemed that specific person fits into. The boxes are all important. And it seems most people don't know how to relate to someone without using boxes. People are scared to look at someone as simply a person, an individual, full of complexity, likes, loves, hates. Different experiences, feelings, hopes and fears. Why are people scared to meet another indivdual head on, without the judgment that is the myriad list of boxes? Well, for one, our culture certainly doesn't encourage that. The boxes are useful to those in power, keeping everyone neatly separated and segregated by class, ethnicity, job. Perhaps that's because if people stopped identifying as goths, as mechanics, as caucasians, African Americans, university graduates, and simply identified as people, as individuals, we would no longer live on our own little islands. Instead, we'd band together, and take back the freedom, community, and life that we rightly deserve, instead of the fabricated existance the powers that be allow us. I've said before that what keeps us trapped in this destructive culture is nothing more substtantial than ideas, and I think that boxes may be simply an extention of that. To function in this culture, we must cling to ideas, to orderliness, and to everyone keeping to their own cliques, their own boxes. That way, we can "know" that people weren't meant to mix and mingle, to have relationships with those older, younger. Those with different opinions than ours, different skin colours, different backgrounds and experiences. If we don't have to stick to our boxes, then we don't need a hierchy that creates and maintains boxes. Boxes are just another block, another idea, that lets us rationalize our culture, our way of living and relating to the world.

So here's to throwing out boxes, destructive ideas, and anything else that gets in the way of good, meaningful relationships with a multitude of different people, and ultimately, gets in the way of the world we want to live in.



  1. I of all people would love to agree whole-heartedly with this post, but I can't.

    Even in tribal situations, people of one tribe know on a certain level what to expect from another person based on what tribe they are from. When I say to another homeschooling parent that we are unschoolers, they know (usually) that at the very least we don't purposely seek out or buy a curriculum for our child to follow and that his educations is self-directed. AND when I say that we are radical unschoolers or whole-life learners, that other parent knows that we have extended the Trust we have for our child to learn what he needs when he needs it to all areas of his life (bed times, food, etc.) and that more than likely we are non-coercive in our interactions with him.

    Is that important for people to know? It is if I am asking them for their support or if they have ideas about how I could handle a situation or solve a problem. They would know NOT to give me ideas that are coercive in nature or that would require following a curriculum.

    I think there is a place for labels, which in my opinion are different than gender, race and etc. When I say that I am a women, you know a little about me, but based pretty much on physiology alone and some things that psychology has inferred about women. However, when I say that I am an Unschooler or Anarchist, there are a lot of things you could know about me based on your understanding of those labels.

    I wouldn't opt to elicit a conversation about birth control options from a devout Catholic or Mormon, unless I wanted to hear about their religious opposition to said topic, because for me, NOT having such a thing as birth control is mind-boggling and the conversation with a person of those faiths would not be beneficial to me. I have a certain expectation regarding certain subjects when someone shares with me that they are a devout Catholic or Mormon...if I am making sense.

    I could go on, but I've already taken up a lot of space here. Didn't mean to co-opt your blog.

  2. Stella and Owwliv: Thanks guys! :-)

    Michele: No, don't worry, I like long comments! I wanted originally to talk about when I think labels are useful (I am the person that calls myself an unschooling vegetarian pagan anarchist hippie after all, in the hopes that by saying that people will get a bit of an idea of what I believe in) but it just went in a different direction, and I couldn't see how to work it in. That, and my main purpose was to draw attention to the extreme overuse of labels, and how judgmental that labeling most often is. There were two points that I didn't end up covering in this post, so wanted to soon, and those were when I think (personally) that labels are useful, and dealing with trying to be less judgmental, and use less labels myself.

    It seems whenever I go on a rant about something, I often leave out something important, or come across in a different way than I intended too... Ah well.

  3. Michele: Oh, and what all is a label, or box? I wouldn't say your gender was, although I suppose that it could be considered one, the way I was talking about it... OK, I get what you mean lol. :-P

  4. well...many people think gender is too confining, but that is another topic all-together ;)

  5. Boxes are sure to stay, but recognizing them and being open to the possiblity that the orginal "box" we may think someone belongs in, is not accurate, is often the key. I think when we acknowledge our own judgmental ways and work to challenge them and move beyond them, we will all be more accepting of one another (and more happy)!!

    Keep going with your thoughts, they are great!

  6. Idzie, visit Malaysia. There are boxes with pipes linking. There are no such things as jocks or nerds or preps in schools in Malaysia. I have friends that are really beauty conscious and they are really smart too. I have math-geniuses that are good in basketball. No one is classified. And not only that, you don't have to be a jock or preppy to be popular. Actually, you don't have to be popular to have good social lives. Everyone is just socialising with everyone.

  7. Yesss!!! You are so dead on. It is this segregating of society that makes me so effing mad. Thank you for saying all this. Makes my day. :-D

  8. Andrea: I agree entirely, and thanks! :-)

    Smorgan: Really? Wow, that is cool!

    Sheila: Thanks so much! :-D