Monday, July 15, 2013

Classifying and Pigeon-Holing People

I look at objects and situations and categorize, pigeon-hole, and classify pretty much everything I encounter.  I'm sure a lot of other people do this too, but probably only a small portion of the population do it to the same extent that I do.  

From an day-to-day standpoint, this serves me well, it could be orienting myself by observing sun-faded paint on south facing storefronts or looking at low clouds moving or landed seagulls out the window to determine the prevailing wind direction.  It could be making ethical purchase decisions using the news and advertising, or it could be identifying a "what will happen next" scenario.

Socially, though, this is mine field.  

We live in a time where it's not "the done thing" to point out, or act on what can be observed.  It's not polite to be accommodating to people who can be classified by ability, gender, class, creed, culture, ethnicity, etc.   If you try to be helpful, you get berated as having poor judgement and if you don't help, you get berated for not being sympathetic to their issue.

Unlike some people who are intolerant of differences, I think it's important to look for, and recognise these differences - as long as the end game is to be tolerant of these differences and be inclusive as a society.  Superficially, it doesn't matter to me whether you have a turban on your head, shoalin monk dots on your head, or a Fez.  It doesn't matter to me whether you pray to a god, a hundred gods, the earth, or you're an atheist.  It doesn't matter if you eat only vegetables, or meat.  

What does matter to me is that I recognise it.  I then make a point of telling the person that I've recognized it.

If I recognise it, then I can understand it.  If I understand it, I can accommodate it…  Like give you a quiet dedicated spot in the office to lay your mat and pray to the east… or when we're ordering in pizza, making sure there's a vegetarian one.  

Categorisation works for me - I don't gloss over things in the name of "equality", because equality doesn't happen until you recognise the differences and then incorporate what you've learned to achieve a working balance.

A few months ago, I was on a TTC subway train.  It was full of different people from different backgrounds, and the carriage was fairly full.  There was some 20-something year old Indian looking guy who wouldn't give up his seat for an elderly woman.  

His argument was that "I don't have to get up, as it's in my culture not to".
Naturally, I jumped in and said "Really?"
He responded, in a smarmy way "Yes, really!".
I then said:  "That's odd, because every culture I've ever known says that we should respect our elders.  So, what is the name of your culture?"
Of course, he couldn't name one and begrudgingly gave up his seat… and he looked like an idiot now.

Conclusion:  People are often too afraid of hurting other peoples feelings.  By my questioning this guys culture in an intelligent way, and pointing out that the woman was old, and he has no respect, I had achieved the correct outcome that most people regardless of religion, race, age, creed, etc, would all have agreed was correct too.  Had I not done it, the asshole would still be in his seat and the old lady would have had to stand….  And that would have been wrong.

I'm not sexist, age-ist, racist, or anything else.  But I think it's equally important to identify differences so we can all get along in harmony.  Glossing over them and pretending it's not there is ultimately doing more harm than good.