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Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Writing People Off

Humans tend to simplify, and a great way to simplify is to come to set conclusions about individuals—conclusions that they are falling short in some way, shape, or form; and then to summarily write them off or discount them significantly.  This is a heavy temptation with troubled youth.  Yet nothing is more predictable than that there will be late bloomers—high school dropouts that later come to master a field of even academic accomplishment.  On the other side of the life span are senior citizens. How easy it is to write them off as “has-beens” even though they can expect many productive years before them—perhaps even their best years.  Another example is someone who is overweight and out of shape.  There is a tendency to see them forever thus etched in stone—as if they cannot change.  Blessed is the doctor who realizes the health risks involved and gives counsel for change.  We also tend to pigeonhole people in career positions never envisioning them in other roles or responsibilities much to their detriment and that of the organization.  It is worth asking why we jump to these set conclusions.  Part of it is that our brains prefer an ordered world—even if that means we pigeonhole people and force them to fit our mental molds.  Another is the oft mentioned idea that we prefer stability to change—whatever “is” is right and should not be disturbed else unsettling questions might surface.  A final reason is not so complimentary—we like to think of ourselves as superior to others and making unfounded and summary judgments insulates us from our own self-oriented anxieties.  Let us return to the troubled youth.  He will never excel so long as he buys into society’s penchant for discarding him as a difficult case less promising for the investment of time and energy than that proffered to promising stars.  He must deliberately disagree, perhaps with anger, surely with determination, and assert that they are profoundly wrong and at once set about, even if in unconventional ways, achieving his own agenda with or without assistance or even encouragement.  In all cases, what is called for in response to pigeonholing is the will and desire to fight.

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