The Box We Put People In
I had a client not too long ago re-teach me a valuable lesson.
I say “re-teach” because quite frankly I should have known better. This was a concept which was taught to me in graduate school and which I have experienced myself in my own life. However, old habits can be hard to break (ask any behavioral therapist) and it is so much easier in our culture to “compartmentalize” people, after all, it makes things simpler, right?
The problem with labeling people is that they become who you want (or think) they should be, not who they really are. For instance, my new client was a blue collar worker who worked with his hands. He came into my office straight from work, still wearing his stained work clothes and when he completed my paperwork forms he listed a common occupation that was manual labor intensive and did not require very much formal education. It was at this point after shaking his heavy calloused hands and reading over his forms that I had already pigeonholed him.
Instead of confirming my assumptions and my simple ridiculous stereotypes, my client presented himself to me as a man of infinite richness in terms of his interests, hobbies, and proclivities. He was an artist who created amazing works of imagination; he showed me pics of his work and I was amazed.
If I had not asked some in-depth questions, I would have missed all of this abundance of personal material! By the end of the session, I felt silly for labeling him. I knew then that I had to work twice as hard to not allow my preconceived notions to wheedle their way into my brain. For now on, I try to think more like this quote from the writer H.P. Lovecraft:
I never ask a man what his business is, for it never interests me. What I ask him about are his thoughts and dreams.
So when the last time you put someone in a box?