Not everything (or everyone) belongs in a bucket

Posted by in Politics, Ponderings

Most people  are compelled to put everyone and everything they encounter into a specific category or “bucket”.   Admittedly, this habit is very useful, when navigating an array of objects, or experiences.  It allows us to sort things, and deal with them one group at a time, so that we can use common strategies for dealing with things which are similar to one another.   We put all the “big” books on the shelves that are spaced further apart,  we avoid putting all the “metal” objects in the microwave, we wash all the “colored” clothes in cooler water, and bleach all the “whites”.  Without this sorting process, we couldn’t accomplish much.

Dealing with the material world in this way is very useful, so it’s really tempting to label and sort people  into same comfortable bucket structure that works so well  with objects.   Educated/uneducated, beautiful/ugly, thin/fat,  Jewish/Christian, southerner/yankee, conservative/liberal — as soon as we see somebody new, we are tempted to start labeling them.  It so much easier to attach a label to someone than it is to get to know them, but actually, both people and things each have a whole spectrum of characteristics, which do necessarily follow predetermined patterns.  When we are dealing with things, a few erroneous assumptions may not matter, and can even be helpful,  but when it comes to human beings, forcing them into  categories can be both hurtful and destructive.

I’ve never  fit neatly into any one group or category, so for me this issue is very personal.  I don’t much like being told who I am or  what to do — pronouncements which often  follow closely once someone has put me into a bucket.  Some examples:  I’m a male with a few  characteristics some  people frequently associate with that gender.  I can be over assertive and sometimes a little  too verbally aggressive, I’m not scared of bugs,  I like plain clothes, and I hate recreational shopping, but  I’m also not at  all physically aggressive, don’t talk much about sports, enjoy conversations and friendships  with many women more than a lot of men, and prefer young adult books to action movies.     I’m guessing that I am not alone.  I think there are many of us out there who don’t easily fit any one common pattern.

So when people put other people into buckets, I think it’s pretty unfair.    Better to judge people by what they actually do and say,  and not by a  set of  conclusions we based on a small amount of evidence.  I think all people  struggle with the categorization habit,  even the most liberal and individualistic of us.  I find it ironic, for example, that we can’t seem to process  gender or sexual orientation , without creating more and more categories for people to fit into.  I understand that the term LBG evolved to LGBT and then LGBTQ to be more inclusive.   Yet, I wonder if a side effect of  all these new labels, is to exclude people who may not fit  precisely into any of them.  I worry that applying these labels can cause us to lose site of the fact that the quality we are categorizing is just one aspect of a person, and doesn’t  have to imply anything else about them at all.

When it comes to politics, the bucket habit is tearing us apart by warping our good judgement, morality, and ethics.   Its caused some  of us to tolerate cruel, small minded, racist behavior, which they would  never  themselves participate in, just to promote their own  ideas and ideals.  It’s caused others — and I’m conscious of falling into this “bucket” —  to feel an unhealthy rage against everyone in the other camp.  The media tells us that a whole state is either red or blue enough times, and we begin to believe it, forgetting that any group is made up of individuals, not archetypes.   We hear our favorite outlet demonize the  opposition over and over again, and we begin to see  them as in the “demon” bucket.    Please don’t misunderstand, I am about as against our current leadership as anyone could be,  and I can’t forgive misogyny, racism, and cruelty from  anyone,   but I am not sure it’s helpful to think about all of the people who think differently in just one way.   I know it feels like crap when they do the same to me.