13 January 2010 at 2:54 pm 4 comments

After a yard sale last week, I found myself sifting through a large pile of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. My brain slid into sorting mode, easily identifying each coin while stacking it in the right pile. A few were too dirty or covered in paint to instantly identify, but a little observation and my brain was able to settle on a category.

pennies, nickels, dimes & quarters!

This was what my mind was good at – identifying, categorizing and sorting the mess into neat, tidy, piles. Then I came upon a coin from Australia bearing the Queen’s profile, and my mind halted. I didn’t have a category to put it in. It didn’t already have a value assessed to it – at least not in my mind, and so I poured over it, reading the words, looking at the engravings, and feeling the surface. Despite the fact that I knew in Australia there were perhaps millions more just like it, I treated it as something unique and put it in its own pile – all by itself.

an australian oddity

In the past three weeks I have had over five people say fairly biased things to me based solely on my religion. None of these people intended to offend, and several are my close friends. What bothers me is that in someone else’s mind I might be so easily identified, categorized and sorted entirely by my religion.

Megan = Mormon = pre-conceived (and often false) notions

Leaving any beliefs about my church aside, can anyone be entirely categorized by any organization that they belong to?

All organizations are filled with many people: all different, all working together for a common cause or belief. If someone is a part of an organization, that makes up a part of their personality and beliefs, but it doesn’t determine the entirety of their person.

Which is why I often don’t tell people what religion I belong to until the subject comes up – hoping that if I am a little too covered in dirt or paint it might make them consider me a few moments longer before finally deciding that I am just a penny like the rest of the pennies they know.

Our minds, however, are best at sorting. Putting people in neat, tidy piles is so much easier (and neater) than putting each person in their own separate pile, and does the human brain really have enough space to do that? Could a person ever truly store each and every person they meet into their brain without putting him or her into at least one category?

Perhaps the problem isn’t that brain categorizes — it’s that so many people stop categorizing after only one or two categories have been found. Or perhaps it’s that the people around me aren’t willing or interested enough to look for more categories.

In my mind, I feel like that Australian coin: different, unique, and worth inspection, when perhaps to others I am just a simple penny, worth tucking in your pocket, but not intense scrutiny… and that is what stings most of all.


Entry filed under: word of the week. Tags: , , , , , .

mall madness feminism

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michael Critz  |  13 January 2010 at 4:09 pm

    I feel like Neo-Nazis could probably be entirely defined by their affiliation. Some belief systems are ludicrous and their followers are defined by those beliefs.

    I’m always interested in affiliations people have because it is a method by which they define themselves. It’s very interesting when some people affiliate themselves with an organization that espouses a certain ideal image of what a person should be.

    It’s twice as interesting when people affiliate themselves with organizations that oppose an aspect of their personality. For instance, “family values Republicans.” (These days that phrase is practically code for hypocrite… and likely a closet-case gay.)

  • 2. Rebekah  |  13 January 2010 at 8:11 pm

    We all complain about being stereotyped or written off, but how often are WE guilty of the same snap judgments?

    I find myself doing too much “sorting” at elementary school. I catch myself judging kids by their snarky T-shirts or facial features… but these kids are too small to choose their own clothes, they’re too young to have earned their faces, and there are MANY factors contributing to their behavior.

  • 3. hazelnutmegan  |  14 January 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Michael: We do choose to affiliate ourselves with organizations based on our beliefs, so they do say something about us. But by their very nature, large organizations can never wholly define all the aspects of every person within them… even the Neo-Nazis.

    Rebekah: I found myself doing the same thing when I was substitute teaching. Its so easy to categorize people and our brains are just so adept at doing it! You just hope that those close to you will be less likely to do so.

  • 4. Hannah  |  17 January 2010 at 12:55 am

    This is how people work, but I think compartmentalizing people makes it way easier on the brain than remembering each person as their own compartment like you said! The piles of people XD And while groups you’ve aligned yourself with often tell a lot about who you are it never wholly defines your being. I often think of the Dark Knight in which the two boats must decide if they’re going to blow up the other boat full of passengers. You might think the prisoners would all be unfeeling and just blow up the citizens when in actuality the “law-abiding good citizens” came closer to killing the other set of people than the prisoners ever did. One action we make and one group we are a part of does NOT define a person, but everyone is guilty of generalizing in such a way because that’s just how our brains work.

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