We tend to judge people the moment we meet them. Not condemn them, necessarily, but judge them. We find a suitably labelled box, and we pop them into it. Let us be honest: we all do it; and it isn’t always a bad thing. When you only have a few minutes’ experience of someone, you only get a sense of one or two dimensions of their character, and you need to proceed according to what you do know.
The problem comes when we try to keep people in that box when it doesn’t fit. When we refuse to admit that they have more than one or two dimensions to their character. (Pride & Prejudice, anyone?) When we make sweeping assumptions about what else is true of them, based on what else we keep in that box.
People often file me in the “Christian” box. This wouldn’t be so bad (since I do consider myself a Christian) but one of the fastest ways to wind me up is to make assumptions about me based on what else you’ve filed in there.
Believe me, people keep some weird stuff in that box.
I also get filed in the “young person” box a lot. This, despite the fact that people who started primary school the year I finished high school will now have finished high school themselves. OK, I’m not exactly old, but I don’t fit the “young person” stereotype. Neither do a lot of young(er) people. We aren’t all into drugs and loud music. Some of us prefer to stay home and knit. Or hang out and knit. Or crochet. Or debate theology late into the night…
And then there’s the whole gender box complex. Even if your culture accepts that there are different ways of being male, or female, people still expect you to pick one and stick to it.
Example: a man may take an interest in sports. He may also take an interest in flower arranging (and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you what else people keep in that box). People don’t expect a man to play rugby on Saturday morning and then go home and start messing about with roses, oasis, and variegated foliage. It makes them uneasy, as people tend to be when they find someone in two boxes at once. (Like Schrödinger’s cat, but with more boxes and less cruelty to animals.)
Or, to consider an example closer to home (my home, anyway), people have a box for the kind of woman who does hands-on stuff like reproofing an oilskin with homemade waterproofer; and they have a box for the kind of woman who wears floral dresses and aprons about the house. But I am here to tell you that it is perfectly possible to reproof an oilskin while wearing a floral dress (and you definitely want to be wearing an apron).
I did it a couple of weeks ago, using this bloke’s recipe, or something like it. I didn’t have raw linseed oil, so I used wood oil instead. And I didn’t exactly measure anything. It worked, though the surface still feels a little tacky to the touch. After letting it cure in the sun for a week, I tested its waterproofness – with a small watering can, since it hadn’t rained so much as half a millimetre for a fortnight – and yup. Job done.
At the end of the day, you are who you are. Don’t bother trying to be someone else to please someone else (or avoid upsetting their prejudices). Like Cinderella’s evil step-sisters who each cut off a bit of their foot to fit in the shoe – no, that wasn’t in the Disney version – you won’t be able to sustain the deception, and you’ll end up with no prince and a munted foot.
And don’t feel guilty if you sort people into boxes yourself. Just be sure to leave the lid off.