I’ve always liked boxes. Especially shoe boxes because you can sort things into them and stack them up neat and tidy. They provide structure and organization, which the teacher side of me thinks is just awesome. However, the artsier part of me takes over sometimes and goes for bags, you know? They’re softer, so they don’t stack well, but you can fit more in them and they have a lot of “give”.
Our “people boxes” are an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, it’s a very convenient organizational system. It’s just easier to say, “you know, and then he went all ‘engineer’ on me,” instead of “it was two o’clock in the morning and he started talking about the compounding chemical structures involved in the formula for the bulletproof paneling they make at his company.” You get what I’m saying of course. Calling someone artsy, businesslike, teacherish, engineer, Christian, there’s nothing wrong with having a system … is there?
There was a particular guy that I grew up with who liked his organizational system, but maybe a bit too much. The boxes he put people in were labeled, based on a first impression and pretty much permanent. I was unknowingly in the “silly little girl” box for years with him, and never could figure out why he didn’t like me. One night on a train ride to town we had a conversation about Edgar Allen Poe and the change in him was instantaneous. All of the sudden, he talked to me like I was a human, not just then, all the time. It was so drastically different that I had to ask a couple of his friends what I had done to suddenly merit his favor. They told me, he had put me in that box years ago, labeled it, and never thought of it again until the Poe conversation. Really? Yikes!
Here is my theory on people boxes (feel free to chime in with theories of your own,): They are a byproduct of the fact that many people never mature past a high school mentality. We still think of people as jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, etc. But I think people do better in bags. Breathable bags of course, not plastic. Something for people to stretch out in and have more than one facet. I am a very cheerful person, which does sometimes translate to silliness, but I also love Dickens, Poe, diagramming sentences and reading my Bible. I read this quote once and it has changed my perspective on people forever, “The most complex character in literature is far more simplistic than the most simplistic person in the world.” I’ve read some pretty complex characters. David Copperfield, Elizabeth Bennett and Harry Potter to name a few. Literature is full of brilliant characters and they don’t scratch the surface of a real live human being.
That “little old lady” who sits in the back at church, she was alive during times in history that we study about in books. Her husband was killed by a drunk driver when she was in her late twenties, leaving her with three boys and an 18 month old baby girl. She used the insurance money to buy a house so that they would always have a place to live, and she planted a garden so they would have food. She raised those four children alone, keeping them in church and every activity in school that she could afford. They had nothing, but she never complained, she was too busy to complain. She taught her children that sometimes life was hard, but it was just life. Her children grew up to be four of the most brilliant, hard-working, non-complaining, selfless people in my life to date. One of them is my mother. “Old people”: how did they merit only one box for all 476 million of them? Horrifying. We should fix that.
Should we even have categories for people? We’re probably going to, whether we should or not, right? So how can we keep our people organizing from being stifling? Of course we should burn the cruel categories. That should be a given. Obviously let’s not do the loser box, or stupid, or waste of skin. I do think we should make an exception in the case of bad drivers. Right? Can we keep that one? Okay. Also, we could let go of the first impression rule. Of course it’s lasting, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Otherwise, perhaps we’d be better off categorizing by lists instead of labels. Bags not boxes. Remember that homeless people have a story (one that you probably don’t even WANT to know), that artsy people have their mathematical side, and that rocket scientists sometimes play the piano. Nerds make really good friends. The beautiful homecoming queen from high school that you thought was a snob actually grew up to be very nice! I’m crazy extroverted and occasionally I just want to be alone and quiet. Sometimes atheists believe in God, and sometimes Christians forget that He exists. People are complex … and wonderful and they don’t fit well into boxes.
Also, you should never, under any circumstances, ask an engineer (out of politeness) how they are liking their new job at the bulletproof paneling place … just don’t. Especially not at 2:00am.