Y’all I can’t sleep.
I am upset tonight. People from all over the country are messaging to make sure I am safe because of the riots happening in downtown Nashville. I am witnessing how fear and anger and sadness and cultural norms and stereotypes are veiling the true intent of peoples’ words and actions. I will TRY to make this quick because I am too tired and need to sleep, but do you ever feel a thought curled up at the back of your head for days, pulling your daily experiences and observations into its sphere? Does it ring like a bell trying to get your attention?
I have that problem. This week it has been the concept of defining oneself- and others.
We can’t help but categorize people. Archetypes, stereotypes, races, nationalities, genders, sexual preferences, social classes, political parties, religions, castes…. I’m so exhausted, I feel brain dead right now, and I was still able to rattle all of those off… yet I am surely still missing SO MANY examples of the way we put people into boxes that we can check off on our census form.
Why do we do this?
Children start the practice of “sorting” by color, shape, etc. around 18 months. It’s in our nature to categorize- the anthropological and neurological and genetic reasons are surely too much to dive into here, but I do want to offer one idea I had.
Isn’t sorting satisfying? Doesn’t having a clean room with everything in its place feel… calming? Doesn’t knowing how a situating will probably play out make it much easier to walk into it with confidence and poise? Doesn’t having a place of your own in your family and your home and your community and your workplace and your city feel comforting?
Categorizing soothes us. It allows us a chance to let our fight or flight response relax, thereby relieving what we now call (in our modern world that is mostly safe from predatory animals and the like) ANXIETY. We all just want to alleviate our anxiety. What we consider to be the feelings we call confidence and ease, our ancestors would refer to the feeling of being “safe”.
Putting everything into neat little boxes gives us expectations for how we should act and treat others and it, in turn, gives others cues how we would like to be treated and related to.It’s helpful… to a certain extent.
But if we lean on that crutch too much, it becomes toxic and harmful. We begin to mold ourselves to perfectly squish into our personal three dimensional little box, that feels a little too tight, but maybe if we squished into the corners juuust a little further we could fake it.
Because then people will like us more.
Then, we are palatable and predictable and expected. People know what they’re gonna get.
What if we didn’t have to do that?
What if we busted out of the box and learned to effectively communicate our expectations and needs, instead?! What if we simply asked others what they expect OF US so that we can meet their needs, too?! We could change everything. We could change the way we talk to each other, carry ourselves, how we set boundaries, how we treat others both alike and different from ourselves, how we interpret and respect others’ morals and actions… and do it the way we REALLY wish. Just by taking up the volume of the authenticity and vulnerability in our communication.
That’s scary to start doing… but man, once you’re out of the box you may never go back in.
We MUST get better at interacting with one another.Positive psychology and sociology are not pointless areas of study! We need to start LEARNING HOW TO BE GOOD AT LIVING.
Let’s lead with honesty and confidence. I have started to believe that facing the world with honesty is the REAL definition of confidence.
This has been vague talk so let’s get specific, shall we? I don’t need to look a certain way for you every day. I’m gonna speak up when I see something is wrong and give encouragement when I believe it is due. I’m gonna dress like a musician one day and a businesswoman the next. I’m gonna wear makeup, or not. I’m gonna be daring or demure depending on my mood. I’m gonna swear like a sailor or elucidate like a scholar. I’m gonna fall in love with whoever I end up wanting. I’m gonna practice my religion, that I choose, which may also change someday. I’m gonna let my political views ping pong from red to blue as my conscience, character and intelligence demand. I’m gonna chase success and comfort, and still always be that little girl who grew up in a double wide trailer and still prefer dive bars.
I don’t need to project my identity to you. I don’t need to be a neon sign telling you exactly what to expect. Maybe then you will lean in and actually figure me out.
Demand others to lean in to you, too. They will come to know a much more exciting, lovely version of you that way.
Dare to drop the definition you have given yourself. Dare to drop the definitions you have placed upon others.
Release the roles people expect you to play. Release the role you expect yourself to play.
In doing so, you take the fear out of the equation- fear of saying the wrong thing. Or making the wrong move. So what? If you fuck up, just apologize- whether that will need to be to yourself or someone else, I’m not sure. Own up to it, fall back on your honesty, correct it, and move forward with new knowledge. THE SAME GOES FOR OTHERS- if they mess up, correct then with kindness and trust they meant you no harm. Give them the chance to learn.
What about the fear of feeling foolish? What if they all laugh at the real you?
Fuck that. You cannot look dumb if you are shining with joy and kindness.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is still being dishonest with themselves- they’re still in their box- and that ain’t your problem.