Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Boxes and labels

Why do we put people in boxes?

Why do we label people without even knowing them?

Why do we rush to judgments before giving someone a chance?

Why do we make assumptions when we don't know the whole story?

These questions ran through my mind this morning while working with law enforcement on some identification training. You might think after 4.5 years and hundreds of officers trained that I would be used to the comments and the expression of surprise, but it never ceases to amaze and amuse me.

Generally, I get one of four responses, though the actual words may differ slightly....

"You look young, you sound even younger and you're a girl...what could you possibly know about heavy equipment?"

"No one as pretty and sweet as you should be in this line of work."

"You are a woman in a man's world. You must just be the secretary. Move over and let me talk to your boss."

"Are you married?"

These labels are applied when someone first calls for help and are shocked to hear a woman's voice. Or I hear these comments when I'm out delivering training. My reaction is always amusement. I actually enjoy shocking these people. I feel comfortable with my job and while I don't know everything about backhoes and bulldozers, I do know enough to do my job well. And I know who to ask when my knowledge fails me. I take pleasure in shocking them because I want them to reconsider their labels and perhaps next time they won't be so quick to label someone. At least that's my hope.

But today I was struck with a little sadness about the way we label people when we don't even know them. Perhaps we use a tiny bit of information to form a judgment that often ends up inaccurate. It's especially dangerous if our labels close us off from truly getting to know someone or allowing them out of the box that we put them in. Maybe labels are a way for our brains to process. Maybe we need boxes to help us make sense of life and the overwhelming amount of information that floods us. Maybe. But we still need to hold those labels and boxes loosely and allow people to be who they really are, not who our labels say they should be.

Let me challenge us today to not get stuck on labels. Don't focus on the box. Just give people permission to be themselves.

Yes I'm a woman who knows heavy equipment and even enjoys talking about machines.
Yes I get excited when I see big machines at work doing cool stuff and I don't mind slowing down for road construction because it gives me a chance to watch.
Yes I can tell you how to identify machines and where to find components.
Yes I am young and sound even younger on the phone but you might want to add a decade when you guess my age.
But I'm also a woman who loves working with kids and will cry when I see them loving Jesus with such innocent faith. I enjoy public speaking and teaching but also want to know an individual's story. I will watch the occasional chick flick but prefer a good sports movie. I'm more comfortable discussing theology and the Bible than corporate politics and wish I had more Bible/faith conversations. I love to write...anything from stories to poems to devotionals and Bible studies but sometimes struggle to find the right words during important conversations. I'd rather throw a frisbee or take a walk than go shopping. Actually there's a long list of things I'd choose to do rather than have to go shopping.
My point is that I'm a mix of interests and hobbies and skills and even some drama. :)

If you find a label for that, let me know. The most common one I hear is "weird" and I'm okay with that because I'm okay with being me. Let's be okay with letting people be themselves. It'll save us all a lot of headaches.

In the meantime I'm going to keep breaking the mold and creating shock among police officers.


Mom said...

That's my girl!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Did you grow up playing with Toy Trucks or did you gain your appreciation of heavy machinery later in life?

Holly Sutton said...

I played with toy trucks sometimes with my brothers. Most of my appreciation for heavy equipment came after grad school though. :)