Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Boxed In

I have been placed in many-a-box in my day. We all have categories in our minds that help us know what people will do and what they believe and what they value. It helps us organize people. Makes them predictable. Makes them easier to get to know. Helps us know if they are on our team. But don’t you ever come across someone who surprises you? A woman with hairy legs and dread-locks devouring a steak? A hunter concerning himself with an orphan wild animal? Someone who belongs to a certain political party displaying characteristics of the ‘other side’? Sometimes its not that easy to keep track of who people are.

For some reason I have been exposed to a lot of political dialogue lately on facebook, the radio and especially with my socio-psychological interest in the current President of the United States. I have never been one to take sides politically. Most of my decisions in life happen intuitively and how I vote at election time is no different. I listen to what people are saying, ask questions, sporadically follow the issues and make a choice based on a variety of factors that include local, provincial, federal and global concerns and the history of the candidate. But I do not subscribe to any one team, side, or party and I am UTTERLY fascinated with people who do. What I find so incredibly interesting is the ability of a person to know without a doubt that they are wholeheartedly congruent with any one group’s ideas. No matter what. Even if the ideas change. Even in a storm of resistance (following a political scandal, for example). Even if it means sending their children off to war. Even if their party just stole millions of dollars from taxpayers. There is a loyalty and a faith and trust there that is often foreign to me. Fascinating.

I think there is great comfort in adhering to a specific set of rules. And great strength in any unity. If we can find a set of people who see the world the way we do this helps us feel as though we belong. I think that is the most important thing we can know as humans. We can also feel a part of something when we are willing to listen to another point of view, however, or are inspired to understand a different way of thinking – that is a resource not to be overlooked!

It is also important to know where we have come from. What our parents believed and what values governed their lives. What their parents believed. And what their parents believed before them. We have histories of belief systems buried so deep that they seem to literally become the fibre of our being. All of these things play a part as we choose what team to play on.

All I know is that I despise being put in a box. Because I seem to reside in many standard stereotypical roles, I often hear assumptions from people about who I must be and what I believe. Again I find this fascinating. Most of the assumptions I hear about myself are so dead wrong I am embarrassed to correct the assumptor. Even people that know me very well will fumble into these follies - my own mother included. I do not judge. But I cannot say that I do not cringe every time. In fact I want to scream at the top of my lungs: ‘that is NOT WHO I AM!!!!’ Doth I protest too much? Perhaps. But more than likely I just don’t think we as people are that static. We have different ways of coping with change, but we are not wired to be totally fixed in our thinking. What is good for us in one decade may be terrible in the next. What worked in one life phase will fail miserably in another. I believe that one of the greatest life skills is to be able to adapt to the changes around us. If you believe in evolution as I do, our very survival is based on this principal.

Here are some fun examples of ‘who I am’ told back to me in what I continue to find comical:

1. I am an organic farmer. Therefore, I grow pot and sit around all day complaining about my government and receiving social assistance cheques. I also despise all forms of conventional agriculture.
2. I am a female singer/songwriter with a guitar. Therefore, I am either Phoebe from Friends (whom I never knew because I didn’t have a tv in those days) or I am a Lilith Fair wannabe. Full stop.
3. I am a federal government worker. Therefore, I do nothing all day and get paid too much to do it. I have settled for working for the ‘man’ instead of doing real things in the real world.
4. I am a wildlife conservationist. Therefore, I abhor hunters and do not agree with any harm done to any animals anywhere.
5. I worry about the future of our planet. Therefore, I do not drive a car, I recycle at every opportunity, and I attend all protests related to the environment.
6. I once shaved my head. Therefore, I must definitely be either a cancer victim, a lesbian or a Buddhist.
7. I believe in restoring useful skills from the past (woodwork, clothing, food processing). Therefore, I never eat foods in packages with bears on them, I never buy anything from a dollar store and I make all of my own clothes. Or I must not yet have heard of pancake mix if I was bothering to make them from scratch.
8. I buy most everything second hand. Therefore, I have low standards, I’m cheap, and I don’t have enough money to buy the real thing.
9. I care about the fate of our natural resources. Therefore, I think making money from natural resources is evil, I think all industrial activity is wrong and I would rather enjoy looking at a forest full of trees than work for a living.
10. I was recently told that I was seen as a 'pretty girl’ in high school. That must be why I was not welcome in the enriched math class that I asked to take. I was also told I would be unable to run in track and field because there were no mirrors on the track. I should take up modeling instead.

I can assure you that all of these original statements are true. And every assumption that follows is a bunch of complete and total hogwash. But I have heard each and every one of them straight to my face. They are so far from reality that I could spend a whole post on each of them defending myself. But I won’t. Because my job is to get comfortable in my own skin and accept that I cannot change how people view me. I can only change what I do with my days.

I work hard. I believe in hard work. I really love a well written song no matter who is singing it and what instrument they are playing. I care about the environment. I care equally about the ability of people to earn a fair wage. I think there is something to be learned from the past. I look forward to what we will newly discover in the future. I like to be useful. I like to make good use of the things around me. I think it is my responsibility to make good use of our natural resources. Good use. Not waste. Not contaminating. I am older now and am no longer concerned with what it means to be a ‘pretty girl’. I got 93% on my first enriched math class test (where the class average had been 46%). I ran the 1500m and came in fourth. Without a mirror.

Please don’t box me in. I want to hear what you have to say too. So let’s chat.


  1. Julie, I don't know how, but you seem to have a knack for writing so many things I think! Sadly, as much as I abhor being put in a box, I find myself doing it?! I am aware and I'm working on it.

    Those boxes that people put us in are often very painful, and we begin to believe them. I try to ignore the boxes other people have for me, but sometimes it just creeps into my consciousness. And I have to say it is galling when someone thinks they have me all figured out!

    The truest statement in what you have written? "Because my job is to get comfortable in my own skin and accept that I cannot change how people view me." Absolutely. And sometimes they may not appreciate who you are. Their loss.

  2. This makes me think about how I educate new parents on the "box" syndrome - how we put our babies into actual boxes - the bouncy chair, the swing, the crib, the carseat....I encourage them to open up and see other ways of doing things. If they're comfortable that is! In my mind, boxes kind of stink :)


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