“Many men go fishing all their lives, without knowing it’s not the fish they are after.”
–Henry David Thoreau
If you know me at all–if you have ever overhead a conversation I have had–you will be familiar with my obsession of The Box.
I abhor, absolutely loathe everything that The Box represents. Perhaps that’s subliminally the reason why I am vegan, I believe so strongly that nothing should be contained in a box.
There is one misconception about The Box that I would like to expand upon;
It’s not a “comfort zone”
I understand the Comfort Zone, absolutely no problems there. I am good friends with my personal Comfort Zone, we share a lot of kicks and giggles; there is unquestionably nothing wrong with a Comfort Zone. It’s part of what makes us human.
The Box is not a Comfort Zone, don’t equate the two. There are key aspects of The Box that render it ineligible from functioning as a Comfort Zone:
Your Role and Your Choice in the Matter
We are able to put ourselves in our own zones of comfort; we make the choices here. Do I want to put forth effort into stretching my bubble of comfort? Do I want to perhaps retract the volume of my zone a bit to pursue structure? How do I operate within my Comfort Zone? How do I feel when I go outside of the boundaries?
The Box is something that we don’t have much control over. Others place us in The Box; they categorize us, they trap us within the confines of societal normatives. There is nothing individual about a Box. Indeed, there cannot be. Those who place us within the Box do not know everything there is to know about us, they don’t understand the way that we personally interact with our world or the thoughts that we struggle to either suppress or express.
The Box is literally containing. Once inside a Box, we are faced with suspicion and frustration when we attempt to operate outside of the code of The Box. We are objectified. We cease to become agents. We begin to let others dictate our rules; those very same people who do not know us like we know us.
How To Avoid Getting Put in The Box
If The Box is so frustratingly restrictive and objectifying, how do we avoid letting others place ourselves in one? There are so many preexisting Boxes available to be placed into; The Health Nut, The Studier, The Partier, The Diva, The Slob….how do we avoid the labels?
Definitively and firmly decide to not be placed in a Box. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
It’s hard to objectify someone without their consent. Refuse to be treated as an object or as a standard. Oftentimes we accept our labels, and we almost strive to fulfill them. We want to be The Partier, so we refuse to let people see us studying, in accordance with the true Partier label. We want to be The Health Nut, so we refuse to let others see us eat junk food. It can be comfortable to be categorized, so that we don’t have to think for ourselves or make decisions. Should I eat this or should I eat that? Well, this is what people in my category would do, so I guess that’s what I’ll do, too.
But don’t mistake this for the Comfort Zone; you don’t have control, here. You aren’t the decision maker. It’s not about what you personally are comfortable with, it’s about what other’s have determined that you should be comfortable with. It’s a false blanket of objectified security.
Don’t worry about conforming to labels, and don’t even worry about constantly defying labels. Seek introspection; ask yourself what you want; treat yourself as the agent of change and decision that you are. Ask yourself how you are designed, individually, to interact with your world, and recognize the potential lost when you neglect that unique way that you work.
How to Avoid Putting Others in the Box
I put people in The Box, too. It’s awful, and I hate it, but I find myself often seeking to categorize those I interact with so that I can understand them. I think that’s why the first question we ask when we meet new college friends is “What’s your major?”.
“Oh, you’re a Business Major?” Now I know you are only interested in making money.
“Oh, you’re an Art Major?” Now I know you don’t really like to learn.
“Oh, you’re a Psychology Major?” Now I know you would be a good person to tell all my problems too.
This is unbelievably selfish. We don’t want to spend the time to figure out the individual, we want a quick and broad understanding of someone so that we can understand them. I think we lack the awareness that it truly takes years and years and thousands of conversations to ever understand anyone. We are constant works in progress, how can we be understood, even fully by ourselves?
So to avoid this unfortunate habit of boxing people categorically, recognize when the drive to categorize someone arises, and then swallow it. Ask individualistic questions. If you want to understand someone, it’s going to take work.
I recognize how much work this takes, and it can be a daunting task. So if you are unable to fully devote the time necessary in order to understand someone, that’s okay, really. Accepting that you probably won’t ever understand someone is infinitely better than placing them quickly in The Box, and it’s the most selfless step you could take.
Next time you meet a new college friend, dodge the inclination to ask them what their major is. Ask them, instead, what kind of town they grew up in. What kind of family they have. Are they introverted or extraverted.
I’m not The Vegan. I’m not The Blogger. I’m not The Girl With The Box Obsession. I’m not The Girl Who Takes Everything Too Personally.