Categorizing People

Last weekend, as we walked with a friend of Jake’s whom I’d never met, a particular writer came up and I said that I’d not seen the movies because I hadn’t read the books yet and I really wanted to read first. He was really surprised and then shared some facts that made it clear that he was really into this particular writer.

When we encouraged the conversation, he admitted that he was nervous about mentioning details cause he thought we’d judge him for being so into this author. Like we’d label him nerdy, etc. (Which of course made me laugh since Jake and I are nothing if not nerds.) But then it made me think a lot.

Here was this guy Jake has known and liked for a long time and when he met me, he was still nervous about how I might judge him due to his author choices. How sad is that? I am annoyed that we’re so judgmental and we’re so worried about everyone’s judgements of us. When I first met Jake, he was like that, too. He had ideas of what authors were ok to read and which were not. I read everyone. I am not ashamed to admit I like Stephanie Meyer alongside Milan Kundera and Charles Dickens. If someone judges me cause of what I read, I am perfectly okay not being friends with a person like that.

While book-reading is an area where I feel confident, I am not equally secure in all my other choices. I, too, worry how people will judge me. Will I say the wrong thing? Do the wrong thing? Wear the wrong thing. I worry a lot.

And that sucks.

I know I can’t change the world but I want to change my own part in this game. I want to make sure that I actively choose not to judge others. I don’t want to categorize them in my mind as I often do. I think it’s easy to put people into buckets and then leave them there. But people are so much more complex than that. A nerd might feel passionate about salsa dancing. Does that still make him a nerd? What does a nerd even mean? I just want to be able to take information from others without having them fear that I might judge them. I want to be open and receiving and listening and not trying to compartmentalize and categorize and analyze.

Just listen. (and maybe, if I am lucky, learn.)

I want to find a way to exude this openness and accepting. The first step, of course, is to believe in it wholeheartedly. To truly be open. And then to really listen. Not preparing a reply. Not thinking while someone is talking but really just listening to them. Seeing all their dimension. And as judgements come up (which I am sure they will at least in the beginning), paying attention and letting them go. Fostering that awareness of judging.

And maybe if I get really good at this, I can stop judging myself, too.

3 comments to Categorizing People

  • ruth

    I had 2 thoughts on reading this post from you.
    Firstly, I think there is often little you can do to make another feel less judged, because the judgement they fear is actually from themselves. Before James was diagnosed I went to a lot of playgroups. I was told by various people that he needed more social opportunities. His unpredictable and challenging behaviour was often worse at playgroup, where the social demand was much higher and he was much more likely to be overwhelmed. I felt like every other mother there thought I was doing a terrible job and I felt so bad about myself. Later, looking back, I believe most of the judgement came from me. There wasn’t a lot that they were doing to make me feel that way, I was just facing a different challenge and believed that it was somehow my own lack that caused the problem, then put my judgements of myself onto the person in front of me.
    Secondly, I think categorizing people is a strategy we all use to simplify life. It is hard to comprehend the complexities of every individual, so we make assumptions and put people into a neat box. I think it is a great reminder to see the assumptions for what they are, and be willing and ready to challenge them, but I think it would be hard to avoid categorising people, especially if we don’t know them very well. I think the closer you are to someone, the easier it is to see them for who they are, rather than as a string of assumptions created by the tidbits we know.

  • Susan A

    As always thank you for your post; always so insightful and seem to hit a chord right when I need them too. Ruth thank you to for your reply. I never considered that I’m judging myself and thinking everyone else is judging me the same way. What an aha moment. Yesterday I was feeling like I wasn’t good enough. After reading your post I get that I was feeling that way, but the children in my classroom weren’t thinking “wow my teacher isn’t good enough” as I held and comforted them. The parents weren’t thinking “wow she isn’t good enough” as we talked about their child’s day. My co-workers weren’t thinking she isn’t good enough, nor was my beloved when I came home and sat down to dinner. Yet I was judging myself not good enough and thinking they were doing the same. And getting stuck in that kind of judging means I wasn’t present for any them yesterday. Wow…thank you. Heart opening stuff…

  • Brooke

    Karen, I regularly follow your blog and came here this am to look through your layouts for an idea. But you have so much more than scrapbooking ideas here. This subject of ours’ and others’ opinions of one another has been on my own mind and a topic of discussion with my 13 yr old. In Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, he quotes Jon Snoddy from Disney Imagineering as saying, “If you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you.” I have found that this is true no matter what my own impression or expectations of someone are. Jon also said,”In the end people will show you their good side. Almost everyone has a good side. Just keep waiting and it will come out.” I know I am judgmental, and I sometimes justify it by saying it is efficient to be able to determine who your are dealing with quickly, but as you said, you can’t put people in a bucket and leave them there. You can start with an impression, but let the person help you to understand them more fully and they will surprise you…every time.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.