Of all the holes it is possible to fall into in this life, none is a dirtier, more ill-begotten pit that the pigeonhole. It is a terrible place to be. If it has any equivalent, it is the hole at the bottom of your toilet, because that’s exactly what you do every time you fall for a stereotype, whether it’s regarding yourself or someone else — you make a waste of the potential therein, flushing it right down the toilet. A nasty analogy, to be sure, but only fitting for such a nasty practice.
The worst thing about it is that there are pigeonholes everywhere. Our society is rife with them. Pay attention, look around. Every day of human interaction is, in many ways, nothing but a giant carnival game of constant pigeonholing. Everyone’s getting it, everyone’s doing it — mothers, fathers, children, grandparents. The teenagers are jumping right into them, and pushing their peers into their own! Only babies are free of it seems. The good-looking babies, that is. All of the funny-looking babies are getting tossed right into the pit with the rest of us.
It is an old problem, one that we’ve been incessantly torturing ourselves with since the beginning of civilization. And, while it is progressing somewhat — there are no longer pigeonholes in which people get burned alive for having ‘magic powers’, or crucified for telling everyone to be nice to each other — we are still nowhere near ridding ourselves of them. No industry, no belief-system, no common walk of life is free of them. Humanity is, by and large, still accosted with a perpetual need to put everything in its place, to allocate, allot, ascribe, and decide constantly, to continuously subject all of the phenomena we come into contact with in every moment to the over-worked, multi-limbed arms of our analytical mind, finding the proper hole to plop them into, in order that the world we walk through be suitably organized.
Think about it. It happens in the very first moments you meet someone, and they you. Before words are even spoken, it starts. All manner of judgements are already being made, based on age, gender, body type, race, clothes being worn, hairstyle being sported, etcetera. It is automatic. Then the words start. One proffers specific information on themselves, while at the same time attempting to glean what they can about the other person. It is a delicate dance, and very rarely an honest one. Between adults, certain things are almost sure to come up in those first meetings: job, marital status, offspring. These are the quickest identifiers. Among children and teenagers the interaction is similar, although somewhat more focused on things that can, in a sense, be considered a little more genuine: personal interests, sense of humour, physical aptitude. Regardless, both serve the same end: figuring out exactly where each of us fit in the hierarchy of the world as we perceive it, and, following this, deciding how much value the other holds for us and what place that person — or that personality, rather — has in our world, if any at all.
The greatest danger, however, lies in our own potential belief in the validity of the pigeonholing process, not only in accepting and reinforcing the labels others place on us, but in coming up with our own as well, in order that we may be somebody, that we may have value. In so doing, we are clogging the access to our true potential with all of the surface clutter of the superficial world. It is a dirty pit indeed. All we need do is follow ourselves through an average day and it is undeniable. We are not the same person when speaking to a good-looking co-worker as we are when talking to the elderly janitor. We do not give the kid with the tattoos and piercings the same quality of attention as we do the business man in the thousand dollar suit. Yet what do we truly know about these people? Nothing. All we can be sure of is that they are doing the same to us. No one is being authentic. The pigeonhole rules reality.
Yet some have been there for so long that they’ve mistaken it for reality. Not only do they believe in the role they’re playing, and in the pigeonhole that holds them, they’re also preaching from it. You can’t miss them — they’re everywhere. They’re the ones who’ll tell you just how it is, and the fact that it is serious business indeed. They’re the ones who’ll present the facts, as dictated by history, and use them to demonstrate just how bleak things really are.
Whatever you do, don’t listen to them. The pigeonhole has poisoned them.
Free them instead. Do it by refusing the game. Call out the carnival barker. Every time you meet someone, every time you’re having a conversation with anyone, any time you’re looking at somebody from afar and feel yourself beginning the process of pigeonholing, remember that you know nothing. Nothing. Presuming that you do is the folly that starts you in the direction of the nearest hole. The kid with the tattoos and piercings may actually, deep inside, be a much kinder person than the old lady who lives a few doors down. The executive in the thousand dollar suit may be someone heavily involved in philanthropy and humanitarianism. Or, none of the above. The fact is, you just don’t know. The point is to remember that. Even when you think you know, when you have enough 'information' on somebody to make a judgement, chances are you really don't. If you have been paying attention at all, one thing you will have surely noticed is how much life loves to show us that we were wrong about people, that there was far more to them than we priorly supposed possible — sometimes even those closest to us. Think about it. Most of us don't even know half the things that make ourselves up as people, let alone others, so how could we ever possibly think that we could?
There are no rules we have to follow in this regard. None. Don't do it to others, don't accept it when it's being done to you, and above all, don't do it to yourself. Pigeonholing yourself is a ridiculous trap to fall for. Just being authentic, just being honestly yourself is the most empowering thing that you can do. So you’re into yoga and spirituality. And you also love horror movies and grind-core. That’s awesome. So you’re an MMA fanatic who still loves to watch Saturday morning cartoons. Own it. Whatever it is, own it, be proud of it. Doing so is an incredibly powerful act, as it gives others the permission to do the same. It also takes immense courage, as most people will initially attempt to shove you back into the hole you’re liberating yourself from. But if you persist, not only will you liberate yourself, you will also begin to see clearly the depth and potential that lies inherent in everyone else, even those that are preaching from their confinement. In fact, you may be the only hope they have. They have been so consumed by their role that they have lost their sense of that depth. You can give it back to them. And you do so by plugging every pigoenhole you can, everywhere you find one.