How do you ignore ‘the boxes’?


I’m realizing more and more that people put each other in boxes. It happens to the best of us. We’re either the boxer putter inners or those who have been put in the box, but at one point or another, it’s happened. Do you find yourself doing it? Do you find others doing it to you? What do you think of that ‘category’ mentality?

at Soussevlei Dune 45 - the gift of travel

Before my great uncle passed away, we used to have regular dinner engagements. As he got older, I realized that when discussing familiar subjects, he would often retell the same stories. I imagine that happens as we age when remembering events and people begin to blur together. It happens to me, too. I wonder sometimes, is it the specifics that we’re remembering or a recreation of events we manage to share based on what we’ve been told, see in a photo or think fits into a societal standard. Weird, right? How do we create opportunities to find ourselves if we’re always dealing with that box? How do we ever figure it out without feeling as if we’re rebelling against something or someone in order to showcase our true self? Do you ever wonder about this? I do…all the time.

It seems to me that society has found it acceptable for teenagers to rebel. Somehow or another, regardless of geography, ‘rebellious teenager’ is an acceptable phase, label or box. What happens when we’re not ready to ‘rebel’ then? What happens when it take years to figure out who we really are at a particular time or point in life or what makes us truly happy? Will we always feel like the world has appropriate labels/boxes and we want to live on the outside? Isn’t it possible to live life without instructions or is this like a colour inside or out of the lines scenario? Society is confusing!

Husband at Blyde River Canyon - the gift of travel

One of the reasons I left teaching was the growing tendency to those boxes. Rubrics designed by who knows who seemingly crafted to make all who try their best feel like less created a suffocating feeling. Limiting boxes to tick on evaluations made some of the best teachers I know fall into inexplicable categories nowhere near their level of fabulousness. Those who believed in the significance of those non-quantitative qualities of the ever developing student couldn’t continue with those creative projects or life-lessons if they wanted to get a score that would not be career-limiting. It seemed to be all about those boxes again. People are not data! How on earth can a person fit in a box?

Today we see more and more people trying their hands at various streams of income or hobbies. No longer do signature lines hold solely one career, but rather they may say three or four or even more titles. Celebrities model themselves on ‘lines’ or ‘brands’ and are now keen to call themselves authors, actors, designers, creators, developers and all and sundry. Will it one day be societally acceptable for the non-celebrities of the world to do the same? When do the boxes stop?

Find your own happy! - the gift of travel

In the past few years, I’ve tried very hard to eliminate the labels from my life and take more charge in my own direction. Seeing people as character, generosity of spirit or positive people I’d like to be around is more freeing than using accountant, teacher, lawyer, or writer to describe someone. What happens when you meet someone who knew you decades ago? Wouldn’t it be nice if there are snippets of the person they remember, but the individual as a whole has had some growth or change, somewhere? How can the sixteen year old they used to know be exactly the same as the forty year old today? Decades of life, loss, learning, change, challenges, travel, work, triumphs and difficulties have passed – can we truly be unaffected by that time?

It’s not easy to challenge the box theory. Sometimes, it’s a lot more comforting to know there’s a category in which to put people and one in which you fit. I’m not suggesting no descriptors; only less. I’m suggesting that not fitting in a box is not at all bad and in fact, it may be more comforting for some. Perhaps it’s similar to that comfort zone and how there are those who enjoy living in it, some who are content to at times stretch it and others who tend to live their lives as far from it as possible. Either way, wouldn’t it be nice if we saw people for who they are when they’re standing right in front of us? No passing judgement about where they used to be, how they now think this or that, or how they ‘should’ do one thing or another…solely being present and real and nothing else – that’s what I’m suggesting. Think it’s possible?

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