Resident guest author Tim, shares this thought provoking piece.
I was searching for a title for this. I had in mind ‘The unpleasant categorisation of people into boxes by idiots‘ but there’s something wrong with that.
You’ve been put into boxes by other people all your life:
- You’re a very naughty little girl.
- You’re a very rude boy.
Putting folk into boxes – parents do it all the time. Teachers do it. Your school ‘friends’ did it. We belittle folk. My school had the two unpleasant epithets of ‘Spastic’ for anyone who appeared to be stupidly annoying, and ‘Yid’ for anyone with a large hooter. I assume General de Gaulle, happily referred to in ‘Allo ‘Allo! as The French General with the big ‘ooter, if he annoyed us, would have been referred to as a spastic Yid.
We use these labels as thinking, or unthinking, insults. They’re unpleasant.
Boxification turns them from being an individual into being a class of person that is far less than they were pre-boxification. We dehumanise them. What about:
- You’re a good boy?
- You’re a clever girl?
Those boxes are rather nice to be in. Yet that isn’t quite right either. What’s the difference between being a good girl and a naughty girl?
Do try to keep up! I mean what’s the difference in terms of being labelled as being something? Does feeling good about being told you’re a good boy make it ok to put you in a box when being told you are a bad boy makes you feel horrid about it?
What about ‘spastic‘ when used as a pejorative epithet? What about ‘Yid’ used to disparage Jews? We used to have the National Spastics Society before it changed its name. Some Jews speak Yiddish. Do those facts make the improper use of the terms ok?
Visualise being in the box, labelled on the outside with your worst disparaging epithet. How does it make you feel to be in that box, wearing that label? Can’t visualise it? Maybe I can help you. Be in Nazi Germany in the 1940s and have one of these labels attached to you:
Even with labels you cannot help, with personal attributes that are part of you and that are neither good nor bad attributes, things that just are, you ought to feel fear, or at least to be able to understand the fear that was felt. Someone has made you afraid because of what they will do to you, because of what they have done to others. It’s those labels. And those labels are factual, not even pejorative. Those labels, when used as weapons, can terrify.
Today, be a Muslim; be a normal, law abiding, peaceful, Muslim. Until recently that was just like being a Christian; a normal, law abiding, peaceful Christian. Today, certain groups of people have started to use Muslim, in italics, as a reason to be deeply unpleasant, perhaps worse, to other people.
You think I’m about to get political, don’t you? He’s done the Nazi bit, now he’s raging against Islamophobia. Maybe you should go back and re-read, and see where I’m heading. I’ll give you a clue. This is stream of consciousness stuff! I have no idea, except in the broadest sense, where I’m heading.
However, there is one thing I am very clear on.
I was going to say, “especially into a box that demeans you” but that’s not right. No one has the right to label you, not even as a positive thing. Why not? I’ll come to that.
The Milk in the Teapot
First, think of a friend of yours who just said to you “I’m so stupid!” and meant it. People say it all the time. One said that to me the other day; “I’m so stupid.” he said. He’d just done something rather silly. He’d put milk in the teapot, not the mug. Been there, done that!
I asked him, “What would you think if I said to you, ‘Peter, you’re so stupid‘?”
“I’d be angry with you,” he said, clearly meaning it.
“So,” I said, “if I called you stupid that would upset you.”
“So, I don’t have the right to call you stupid?”
He was certain I do not.
“What gives you the right to call yourself stupid?”
He saw where I was coming from. “Nothing, when you put it like that.”
“Is it ok for me to say, ‘You behaved stupidly just then.’?”
“It’s not good to hear, but it’s far better than calling me stupid. I did. I behaved stupidly, but I’m not stupid. I was using shorthand. I think you’re right. I’ll look at what I do, and not label myself.”
There’s a difference between labels of fact; Jewish, Black, Disabled (but never The Disabled) and labels that are of themselves pejorative.
I have self-labelled myself, you know. That’s tautology, that is. It’s like “I thought to myself…” Who else would you think to? What I mean is that, after thought, I have chosen to adopt the occasional label. I have adopted them in a way that I have decided neither disparages nor exalts me. I have chosen them with care, for one and a half of them may be seen as pejorative. I am:
- the son of an immigrant.
- several other things!
What I want you to see is that I am allowed to choose to adopt a label after giving it some thought. But you, you are not allowed to put me into a box with your casual use of one of those labels, either towards me, or about me. I have not boxified myself, and I am certainly sure that you may not boxify me.There's one piece of boxification that disenchants me. #label Click To Tweet
I’m 64. I don’t mind being 64, except that my mind still thinks I’m 16. I know I can’t be 16 because I have a son in his thirties, plus my body lets me down at times; bits have started to fall off! In August, I am entitled to receive my State Pension; I already get Winter Fuel Allowance, I have earned my keep by contributing in taxes and now I am starting to make withdrawals. I even get age concessions for entry to attractions.
I don’t mind being given those things. I’ve been capable of contributing to them, so I have earned them. I have, mostly, retired, though I have a responsible part time job and volunteer actively for a couple of charities – in all of which I have the care of the lives of others at the core of what I do. I do it because it pleases me, not because I have a desire to be recognised.
I am, I suppose, a Senior Citizen; in the USA, I’d be a Retiree. In August, I will receive my pension and thus (by definition) become a Pensioner – one who receives a pension.
Those who are a couple of years younger than I, will need to work more years to obtain their State Pension. My son will probably have to work until he is 70. His daughter may have to work still longer. We will be required to fund our increasingly long-lived population by making those capable of earning pay taxes for longer.
Why, then, do people start to call me Elderly and try to place me in a box (not the pine one with fake brass handles)? Indeed, why do they dare use the term The Elderly at all, and even in conversations with me? And why do they appear to be affronted when I bridle at it?
We have dehumanised our older generations with such awful terms as Elder Care, something which is just care. We deny older generations some medical procedures, not because of inherent risk, but because they are coffin dodgers anyway and won’t live long enough to benefit. We shuffle them off to the high-backed chairs to stare at the 40 watt bare light bulb in the day room of the Care Home and, because we have dehumanised them, there is now Elder Abuse in far too many of these places.
We used to revere our older generations. That was probably wrong, too; I think you should earn being revered. Just living a few more years earns nothing. Several of my school friends died early, in their 50s or before; more than one of them was worthy of being revered because of his achievements. Will you be worthy of being revered when you hit 70? What about 80?
I said this was a stream of consciousness. I’ve got to the end, sort of. I promise I’ll end soon. Probably!What I hope I've done is to make you think about Boxification. #label Click To Tweet
Is it ever good? No, seriously, is it ever good? Tell me in the comments:
- Do I have the right to call you stupid?
- If you have a disability, is it ok to classify you as part of The Disabled? How do you prefer to be spoken about?
- What if you have a mental illness? May I call you a nutter? I think we know the answer to that!
- Does being labelled, hurt? Has that made you think about giving others labels?
- Do any labels empower you? Which and why? How do they empower you, or have you empowered yourself because, or in spite, of the label?
- When chastising a child for poor behaviour, will you talk about the behaviour being bad or the child being bad? How does that differ if you are talking to an adult?
I could go on. And on and on and on.
I’m done. For now!
To find out more about 13-year-old Tim, his older self has published Queer Me! Halfway between Flying and Crying