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Little Boxes

People, as much as I’d like them to, don’t always fit perfectly into boxes. Nor does their stuff. Yes, at one time I did manage to fit most of my stuff into a 90 square foot box; it’s the other “boxes,” the smaller (or if you’re a philosopher, perhaps infinitely larger) boxes that I’m talking about. It’s the ones we’re supposed to fit into, the ones that describe us.

June is the month for my annual medical checkups. Every doctor’s office seems to want an update of my information. The forms are loaded with boxes. Boxes for name, address, birthdate, etc. I fill them out without a second thought. But there are some boxes that require a second thought.

  1. Single

  2. Married

  3. Divorced

  4. Widowed

Which do I check? In this case I’m “none of the above.” Not technically. Why are there no boxes for “In a committed relationship”?

I worked for years in undergraduate and graduate admissions offices. When applications come in, boxes are filled out: male/female, in-state/out-of-state, traditional/non-traditional, etc. Boxes are helpful in sorting information, but they aren’t always black and white. (And why is the phrase “black and white” in the first place? Why not beige or navy?) And what about folks who are of mixed races? Transgendered?

At a recent college awards ceremony, the emcee said, “This next award goes to Jackie, a non-traditional age…” At 39 (double the age of a traditional student), it’s obvious Jackie is not 18 (though she does look fabulous). But why focus on age in the first place? Jackie is married with two kids and is earning her nursing degree. Many students at the awards ceremony were also receiving second degrees, having lived in the real world in between age 18 and whatever. It’s obvious they’re not traditional age students, but since they fit in that box, somebody at the college must have thought it needed to be said. Why not point out other things, such as, “Jackie has an MBA with a 3.9 GPA”?

Another award recipient that evening was announced as, “Mary, a single mother of four…” As Mary went up to collect her award, Mary’s mother yelled from the audience, “She’s not single!” as any self-respecting mother would. As an organizer, I like the structure of things fitting into place, like puzzle pieces. But when pieces don’t fit together, you can’t force them. When it comes to people, I think it’s time we start thinking outside the box.

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