Don’t fence me in

You’re fat. You’re Republican. You’re handicapped. You’re black. You’re a girl.  You’re smart. You’re an athlete. You’re a red-head. You’re Muslim. You’re a cop. You’re old. You’re tall. You’re silly. You’re an alcoholic. You’re an idiot. You’re gay. You’re beautiful. You are this…not that.

one dimension

There. You’re in a box. How does that feel? Whenever we label anyone, we are often sticking them in a category in our minds. If someone is fat, they are also a list of other things that we associate with fat. If they are Jewish, we automatically attribute other characteristics to them that we have created in our minds.  Some of those characteristics might be good; some may be negative. Some we might consider to be in “our camp” and others, we might reject as being on the other side of the fence, or even our enemies. Same with white, black, Asian, Hindu, Gay, Christian, male, female, and any other category we consider.

Anytime, we put someone in a category, we are defining them. But only by our own standards. So we are really only defining ourselves. We don’t really know them. Anytime we create a club or camp or faction in our minds, it sets us up to compare ourselves to that faction. And of course, much of the time, we come out on top…just because that is the way human nature is. We must look good. We are better. We are superior. Or at the very least, we are different from them.  So we stick to our own kind. It seems better that way. It seems easier. Sometimes putting ourselves in a box makes us feel secure.  We can define it. It is predictable. But we sure don’t want anyone else to do that!

It is also exclusive. If you shut yourself in, you are shutting someone else out. And division can breed contempt, hatred, judgment, and even a false sense of security.

Of course there are obvious differences. None of the statements or categories is wrong or bad in itself. And there’s nothing wrong with boy’s clubs and girls clubs and joining groups. The problem is the meaning we automatically associate with a person or a group when all we see is one characteristic, one dimension, one category, and label it as better.

Every time we put someone in a category, our children also put them in a category. Every time we judge a person or a group or avoid a person because of one-dimensional thinking, we are teaching our kids to do the same.

Yes, it is risky, but let me suggest that you step outside of your comfort zone. Begin to determine yourself to find out more about someone; learn something new about someone out of your club or category. Then encourage your kids to do the same.

We must not be color blind and pretend we don’t see differences, but begin to see the differences as unique characteristics that make someone even more interesting. Much like another facet on a diamond. Then they are much more valuable than someone we “already know all about,” so that we don’t even consider them.  We cast them aside as not worthy to associate with, or worse yet: as our enemies.

Teach your kids to look deeper, to explore further, to find a place of connection instead of automatically assuming there is none.

My daughter has a tattoo on her foot that says, “Don’t fence me in…”  It’s something I think we all feel. No one like to be categorized or put in a box to be put on a shelf in your mind or cast aside. If you don’t like it, don’t do it to others…and don’t teach your kids to do it.

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