Our brains are wired to place things into “boxes” or categories. We seek out the path of least resistance. We seek to sort the world into these categories. It is the root of things like bias and racism as much as it is the root of sacrifice and acceptance. When we talk about being white or black, educated or uneducated, tall or short, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, A or Z, what are we really saying? What seems to be lost is that nuance matters. “The devil is in the details…” Truer words have never been spoken.
In a discussion about society, race, and experience, the man asked the host ‘Who does my story represent?’ Did his story represent gay men? Black men? Men? Gay black men? Gay black men in the United States? Gay black men in the United States living in the region he was living? Did he represent these things in the confines of his educational status? His socioeconomic status? Who did his story represent? Him…
It is not to say that his, or anyone else’s, story could not be an anecdote to something bigger. It is just to say we cannot place everyone neatly in a box. My words are my own based on my own experiences. I do not represent every Ranger, law enforcement officer, college graduate, Native American… I know my words and experiences connect with many others with similar experiences, but they do not represent the entirety of such diverse groups.
In the nuances of life lies the greatest beauty. I always enjoy hearing Daryl Davis, a black man, brag about how many Ku Klux Klan robes he has. Daryl collects Klan robes because he collects people. He chose to not place others in boxes and instead engaged. Through dialogue and understanding, he has collected the robes of once deeply discriminatory men. These men have shed the once-held beliefs and destroyed the foundation of boxes they were built upon because he chose to engage and listen.
These boxes are not inherently evil, or good. They exist for a reason. They are what help us process and sort the world around us. They help us preserve and protect our lives. They are necessary for our survival. If we processed every experience as completely novel, we would not only be exhausted every day, but we would also cease to exist as a species. What I am saying is I believe we often over-rely upon these boxes. We oversimplify the world around us. We make split-second judgments about others based on our boxes. These are the boxes upon which we rely when we take action, when we speak, and when we process new information. If we over-rely upon these boxes, we fail to create new ones.
In a world of deep division, when there seems to be a mandatory “us” or “them,” stop and think. Stop and think about what you have in common and not what is different. I am not saying to stop and talk to the scary-looking group of people approaching you in a dark alley by yourself in the middle of the night (an example of when our boxes can help preserve your life). What I am saying is that we slow down and listen. We stop seeking validation and challenge our own beliefs. We seek out new experiences, views, and a plethora of complex boxes.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.