Long before the wheel, mankind made the box.
This invention made it simpler to organize things
– things like people for when judging, blaming,
and hating was needed.
– Derek Robert Delahunt
If we categorize someone, if we place them in a group or put them in a box, then we make it easy to point the finger and say, “Look, those people are different from us and they’re to blame for what’s wrong.” We strip them of their individuality and thereby remove the need for discussion—and like many of the things mankind is practiced at doing, this dehumanizes them.
Just think of all the boxes we make: male, female, gay, straight, black, white, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Democrat, Republican, Trump-voter, Tory, Whig, perpetrator, victim, Russian, American, east coast, west coast, this school, that school. We do it in sports and we do it in our private lives—hell, I’ve even heard yogis dump on other yogis because they don’t practice the right kind of yoga. Really, yoga?!
And it’s not just that we assign boxes to other people. People put themselves into boxes and by doing so give themselves an identity. Any one of those categories listed above are equally a source of self-worth for some, as an object of blame for others. “This is the group I belong to and these are our values, which are far superior to your values.”
Consider the language we use. You’re more likely to hear, “I’m a Democrat,” instead of, “I vote Democrat.” You’re more likely to hear, “That guy is a misogynist,” instead of, “I’ve seen that guy do things that disrespect women.”
That last one got you, didn’t it? That’s a tender nerve.
Some of us have watched men disrespect, discriminate, and coerce women. We’ve watched both men and women, those who could hold them accountable, look the other way in favor of company welfare or personal ambition. And now, with this new awareness, empowerment, and momentum behind the #metoo movement, it is so easy to throw these people we label as misogynists to the wolves.
But labeling them as misogynists—putting them in that box—that is a shortcut. And if we do it with them, then we make it easier to do it in situations that aren’t so black and white.
This is personal for me. I’ve worked at a place where people protected a man like this. I’ve seen what pain it caused professional women and those who supported them, and I would like nothing more than to throw these people to the wolves. But, I also say that each person should be judged and condemned on their own merits, and not as a member of a category to which they’ve been assigned.
Here’s the reason: These boxes make it harder to feel empathy—especially when we might find ourselves in opposition to their behavior or values. But empathy is exactly what we need to feel—because every person is a complex human with a unique set of needs, desires, and influences. Everyone has a story that is their own and different than what you think it is.
We need to start with empathy and follow it with discussion and an attempt at understanding.
Categorizing people, as a shortcut for judging and hating them, and as a tool to manipulate the opinions of the masses—this isn’t going to change. But you can change the way that you think.
Instantly categorizing someone is our reaction. It’s what we do because of the way our brains are wired. But with conscious thought, we can respond differently—take them out of the box and by doing so, re-wire our pathways.
This is how we liberate ourselves from the instinct to hate.
Every choice a person makes has consequences and people must take responsibility for those consequences—but this can be done with a lot less, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” and more, “I understand and I feel you.” And this, for me, starts with recognizing the boxes into which I put people—and maybe making one or two other people think about boxes they create.
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