We humans like making distinctions. We spend a great deal of time classifying and naming things, even categorizing each other by skin color, gender, age, socioeconomic status, culture, ethnicity, and religion. People we can’t pigeonhole often make us nervous, as if reducing people to categories makes them more real somehow. If we can label people, we assume we will know what to expect from them. It’s a way to make the strange more familiar. And we humans are predisposed to view the strange with suspicion.
There is a difference, however, between making distinctions and judging. For example, we might distinguish between foods we like and dislike, without deciding that all grapefruit are bad because we don’t like them. Having our own opinion does not necessarily negate someone else’s. And yes, it is possible to disagree about the merits of grapefruit, without condemning every single fruit and deciding that all those who love grapefruit are wrong.
That human urge to identify, categorize, and label, is an important skill. Science, literature, education, medicine, technology, civilization, all of these would not exist without the ability to make distinctions. But when we reduce anyone to a label, we may cause harm. We not only dismiss the wholeness of the person, but also our own capacity to perceive them.
Throughout my life I have heard authority figures say, “How am I supposed to evaluate this? What genre is this? How could anyone grade this?” and my thought was, “Why do we always have to reduce experience that way?” Maybe who we are and what we create defies description and can’t always be reduced to a name or category or color or gender. Yes, distinctions can be helpful, but condemnation simply hurts. Underneath all of the categories we cram folks into, are living, breathing human beings who eat, sleep, laugh, cry, love, and mourn. Our hearts beat together too.
You and I (10/28/18)
My quietest, closed-eye buddha face
doesn’t match your buddha face;
my peace might be your solitude
or even your loneliness
My favorite flower
might be the wrong color for you
too pale or too bold
and the scent too strong
My arms may not reach
around you all the way,
and your hug might engulf me
in cloying bewilderment
The bird’s song at dawn
may pierce my ears with beauty,
while you want to throw
the alarm clock out the window
My life may not move you,
my stories, fantastical and unreal,
but we both breathe,
we both breathe