It’s not like her book made me think of this. In fact, before I ever started reading her, I had jotted down this blogging idea in Evernote. But her book helps demonstrate my point.
You see, I have a confession: I’m a labeler. I’m a categorizer. I’m a color code-highlight-file-stick it in a drawer-er. And this is a benign tendency with regard to my possessions and my paperwork.
It’s not so benign when I do it with people.
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I don’t like puzzles, but I love to untangle cords or thread. I’m very good at noticing patterns and tracing influences and origins. Etymologies, for instance, get me excited. The surest way to my heart is to tell me the arcane and obscure history of a common household or office item. (thanks, Bill Bryson!)
Academically, I really enjoy taking a difficult text and unravelling the argument made by the author—deconstruction being one of my favorite modes of analysis. My brain, often faster than I am consciously aware of, makes associations, finds patterns, and labels ideas.
And that’s where I can get into trouble. Because people are not objects or ideas. They are altogether more complicated than that—and labeling people is reductive and dehumanizing.
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I think this all stems from my own fear of being misunderstood. I am very careful about the image I project of myself: the words I use, the way I dress, my body language.
And, because I know that certain ideas often cluster together, I sometimes refrain from embracing an idea because of its associations.
For example: I have had a few charismatic/supernatural experiences in my life, ranging from speaking in tongues to miraculous healing. But, I associate the charismata with a certain type of evangelical Christian—the type who acts like God speaks directly to her and who also votes for Republicans, the type who is anti-intellectual, thinks evolution is false, supports the state of Israel, and rejects biblical scholarship. Therefore, I tend to downplay those parts of my life. I don’t want to be associated with “those people” or “those ideas” and so I craft my image.
The corollary is that I assume others are just as invested in the image that they project, and so I take actions or words or body language and use them as a way to label someone—to reduce another human to a caricature.
Because I sometimes believe my own image construction. Sometimes I believe I am the caricature of myself that I have created.
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Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots is about how France can be rebuilt after World War II. She wrote it before the war was over and then promptly died.
I can’t figure her out. She doesn’t fit any of my categories or labels. She, at once, expresses hatred and disgust for the state and yet theorizes about an education system arbitrated by the state. She is opposed to marxism as equally as she is opposed to capitalism. She is more taken with the story of the Gospel than any political theorist I have yet read and yet her asides about the Gospel are asides and not the lens through which she views the world. She at once appears very conservative and very liberal.
But she isn’t stupid or confused. Her command of history and philosophy is amazing.
She is a study in the complexity of being human.
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You judge by human standards; I judge no one.
-Jesus (St. John 8:15)