I want to have a serious conversation about the human tendency to size each other up, to try and figure each other out, and to put each other in molds as a way of understanding and relating to each other. I want to have a serious conversation because it’s a very serious issue.
I do not want to have a conversation about the semantics of this conversation. I posted an introduction to this topic on Facebook late last week, and the conversation ended up being quibbles over semantics, which vary greatly depending on where an individual is coming from. I want to be clear: sizing people up, trying to figure people out, and trying to fit people into molds as a way of understanding and relating to them are all synonymous in my experience. Others may call it labeling or categorizing or something else entirely, but I can assure you, we’re talking about the same thing. Also, throughout this post, I will use a number of illustrations (possibly hypothetical, possibly not) to help in explaining my point. In these illustrations, I will clarify my opinions on things, but I’m not interested in having a conversation about my opinions at this time, either.
I want to have a conversation about the problems with sizing people up, trying to figure people out, and putting people into molds as a means of understanding and relating to each other.
First of all, it cannot be done, and you’re kidding yourself if you think it can be. I am not an assessment that you can categorize by asking a few questions, I am not a mathematical equation that you can solve by following a formula, and I’m not a puzzle piece that you should can search for a place where I fit. No person is any of these things. We are all unique individuals, and try as we might, we will never be 100% like anyone else. By nature, we cannot be categorized, unless we are all a category unto ourselves.
I often describe myself as a libertarian (small “l”) because our nation was founded on small (or limited) government principles, and for that reason, I think small (or limited) government is worth defending. Unlike many people in the Libertarian party, I am not interested in small (or limited) government because I think people are basically good or are capable of making good decisions for themselves. From a Biblical and historical perspective, I know that is not the case, and so I do not believe making decisions entirely in favor of small (or limited) government is wise or practical, and I have a wide range of opinion on policy ranging from very liberal to very conservative.
Secondly, using methods of assessment, formula, and mold to try to know someone is extremely restrictive and reductive to that person. These methods say, “This is where you best fit, so you must go here,” even when it’s not a perfect fit. And let’s face it, there is no perfect fit. And often those who want to make others fit into certain categories do not take into account growth and change.
According to every assessment, I am an introvert. I test this way because I am deeply introspective, and value time alone to process circumstances and how I feel about them. Otherwise, I display the characteristics of an extrovert. I’m not an outgoing person, but having grown up with seven siblings, I enjoy having people around. I love getting to know people and building deep relationships with them, but I have no problems with small talk, either. Regardless of any assessment, I’m not entirely introverted, and I’m not entirely extroverted. I’m just an introspective people person.
Thirdly, it might prevent you from knowing some really great people because either they identify with categories you don’t like or you’ve placed them in categories you don’t like. I can’t imagine only getting to know people who prescribe to the same thinking I do. (Not that such a person exists, but you know). As humans, we need people different from us to help us grow and mature.
I have friends who believe that President Obama needs to take a stronger stance on foreign policy; I personally agree with the President when he says, “Just because you have the best hammer, doesn’t mean every problem is a nail.” We’re all still friends. I have friends who support same sex marriage; I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. We’re (mostly) all still friends. I have friends who are really outgoing, friends who are really shy, friends who are in between, like me, but not. I have friends who put people into categories and find methods of categorization helpful; I know better (hahaha). We’re still friends. (Might not be after this post, but…) I think variety is the spice of life, and that’s true when it comes to my friendships as well.
You might read this blog (or what I post on FB and Twitter) or have a few conversations with me and come away thinking you know me and what I stand for if you use formulaic methods to assess me. I’ve had people take issue with my stance on homosexuality, with my stance on sexual abuse in the Church, with my stance on people who work minimum wage jobs, with my not wanting to marry a pastor (which is preference, not even a stance). People either scan my posts and misunderstand what I’m saying (and often push the conversation in a different direction than it should go), or they do understand but they don’t like it and so they have to make me into something I’m not in order to disagree with me. (HERETIC!!! Ha).
No offense, but you don’t know me. You know things about me, and maybe that makes you feel comfortable sizing me up or figuring me out or putting me into a mold or labeling me or categorizing me or whatever term for this laziness you can come up with.
You shouldn’t. It won’t work on me because I don’t fit perfectly into any category. Even if I align pretty closely with certain categories now, doesn’t mean I can’t change (or haven’t changed for that matter). And it’s going to keep you from really knowing me, because while I have friends with diverse ideas and opinions, I’m not interested in anyone’s assessment of who I am and what I stand for.