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Beware of the Box

Work It!

Carlotta Daniels-Randolph | 11/1/2014, 6 a.m.
Categories and groups are our way as humans to identify things and make our emotional and physical world seem more ...

Categories and groups are our way as humans to identify things and make our emotional and physical world seem more orderly and feel less chaotic and frightening. It is a base survival instinct and happens without much thought. It helps to know how to respond to certain stimuli in daily living. However, we tend to categorize, group or box everything we can, including people.

The challenge and sad reality of placing too much emphasis on grouping people is that individuality is stifled and even discouraged as some people tend to be made uneasy if something or someone does not tend to fit into a neat category, group or box if you will.

It is not that attempting to identify people by common traits such as race, nationality, religion, color, ethnicity, age, native language, gender or sexual orientation is bad; it is necessary and has its practical application, such as in the case of the U.S. Census. However, the expectation that most in any group must behave, believe, or experience life in the same way is a fallacy and a most unfortunate common social practice.

Many people are generally not surprised or put off by a few exceptions to our expectations, but humans are so complex and multidimensional that there naturally exist more than just the few exceptions and varied types that most of us readily anticipate and accept. It is just the plain truth about individualism -- we are just that, individuals with varying gifts, talents, beliefs, quirks, challenges, likes, and dislikes. And, the pressure from within the group and outside of the group to be a particular way may stifle and limit one’s ability to be oneself.

The complex pressure of group dynamics on the individual to “fit” into the groups and others expectations of them is considerable. If a young, urban, African American, heterosexual man appreciates all forms of dance, including ballet, what social constraints might be on his ability to pursue this art form? What if a similar young man excels in information technology and attempts to pursue a career in it and is met by hostility from those in the field who benefit from the limiting belief that it is only for others?

We need to beware of the box.

It is this rudimentary, emotionally and economically protective grouping that poisons our entire world. Both the pressure to fit into a group, or be forced into a group or category that boxes individuals in and limits them is destructive and ill advised. Unfortunately it results in so many individuals being less productive, inauthentic, less creative, and prone to experience a marginalized, unfulfilled existence. This impacts the overall well-being of the entire society.

From the prospective of an employer, you would expect some level of uniformed behavior such as professionalism, and the ability to communicate effectively and work well with others. But, equally important are the unique gifts that individuals possess. These talents are desired and sought to help businesses grow and be competitive. Therefore we should not be fearful of individual differences, we should embrace them. Though differences can make us uncomfortable, the ability of individuals to be fully themselves is what gives birth to innovation, creativity and all that is useful, interesting and beautiful.

So hopefully we try to be more mindful of how we respond to the individuality of others and our own desires and instinct to be our full, authentic and productive selves.

Carlotta Daniels-Randolph, M.Ed. is a workforce development professional with 20 years’ experience in the public and private sector and an administrator and adjunct instructor at Delaware County Community College.