Boxes and Labels
Avoiding the assumptions
What are you? Who are you? What do you do?
What type of person are you?
Can you define yourself in a few words and guarantee that those few words will remain an accurate description of who you are for many years? Or, like me, will you need several words and the option to change your mind at any moment?
I’m sure there are plenty of life-changing moments within all of our existences where we redefine ourselves because of a change of direction or some sort of realisation. Or we discard a label because we find it too limiting and it groups us with other people that we feel we have nothing else in common with.
I recently read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and came to the conclusion that we should go no further than ‘human’ or ‘person’ in terms of categorisation. Anything after that – and in the case of her story ‘male’ or ‘female’ – can be subject to argument.
This morning I listened to Hermione Lee talk about the writer, Edith Wharton. Edith wrote about feminist issues but strongly refuted any suggestion that she was in fact A Feminist. Hermione Lee said, ‘Many women write about feminism but don’t call themselves feminists.’
That’s because we don’t like labels and all the connections and assumptions that go with them, I thought. Once you admit to being an environmentalist, for instance you get placed into a box with a label ‘profit of doom’ or ‘hippie’ and the lid firmly closed on you. Isn’t it more sensible to avoid labels and leave everything open to conversation or we may end up inadvertently fitting someone else’s view of what our particular label means?
Are you clever or stupid? Do you see other people as clever or stupid? Do you judge people by whether they have a degree or not? Is it that simple?
I have strong socialist opinions but I am not a Labour Party supporter.
I am a writer but I don’t have a cat sitting on my lap. (I don’t particularly like cats. But that doesn’t make me an animal-hater either!)
I am a mother but that doesn’t mean I want to sit around with other mothers talking about my children.
I keep getting sent forms from the OU, asking me to fill in details about my current situation since finishing this, that and the other course. I can’t do it. I don’t fit the boxes.
Then within the same radio programme as the Hermione Lee interview, an American writer was interviewed talking about her book about optimism. (Look her up if you can be bothered. I’m not sure I can!) She stated that we all have optimism ‘hard-wired’ into us – that it is a human trait. Now any sort of blanket statement like that is like a red rag to a bull to me. How dare she make sweeping assertions like that?!
She then muddled her argument by saying that only 80% of people are in fact optimistic the other 20% are clinically depressed. Gosh. Which box do I fit in? Hmmm…
Oh no… but then she said that British people are pessimistic, because we are really optimistic but we are culturally pessimistic. We put on our pessimism.
Well I had a good long think about this. I am not naturally optimistic. I am not depressed either. I am British. But I am not putting it on. I am plagued by pessimistic thoughts and I fight them regularly. But I love life and never want it to end. So I think I must have fallen out of my box and got lots of different labels stuck to me on the way down. So maybe my parents lied and I am not British then. Or maybe I’m not human.
I did a light-hearted survey on Twitter this morning, by the way, and many – UK-based – people came forward to say they were in fact optimistic.
It must be time to make up a few more box labels because not everyone is fitting neatly into the ones we have so far.
Or shall we just say we are who we are and that’s that. (And even that is subject to the day of the week, hormones, the moon, what job we are doing, who we are hanging out with, what we are eating, and life experiences. Let’s face it – sometimes we just don’t feel ourselves)
Some descriptions are useful for helping us cope or stay away from those who might make us unhappy. I believe being diagnosed with Asperger’s is very useful, for instance, but it’s only one part of who a person is.
I’d probably stay away from someone who defined themselves as a child-hating, capitalist, diamond-obsessive because I’m a family-loving, socialist, sandal-wearer.
But that’s just me.
Or is it?
What’s in there is definitely not what’s on the label, as he wrote that for a joke. Mum won’t throw anything away (well, not much) because almost everything should be re-used or recycled. Her intentions are good but she never actually deals with all the boxes and piles. She would call herself green and an environmentalist, a recycler… but is she if she doesn’t actually get around to recycling…
I guess that makes her a hoarder.
Or does it?
I’m not wearing sandals today, by the way.
Today I am A Fluffy Boot Wearer.
Grabs labels and indelible pen…