Thinking Outside the [demographic, cultural, societal…] Boxes

“Where are you from? #2” -MM. don’t steal me.

This past weekend I found myself in a situation that was equal parts ironic and meta: struggling to encapsulate a person’s existence in a few words, in a post that was meant to show that expressions of values do not align with fall into neat little boxes.

In writing up the responses to the recent poll about whether people felt writing in books was sacrilegious or sacred, I struggled with just how to anonymously, yet contextually, note who said what, and attempt to lend some legitimacy to anonymized quotes.

At first I just gave initials and a location, but given the topic, some form of context seemed lacking.  So I innocently began to add explanations such as “grew up in Japan, based in NYC,” or “grew up in MA of parents born in India,” or “grew up in New York State, of parents of European descent, based in NJ.”  In spite of myself, my explanations began to try to squeeze in several bits of seemingly pertinent information in an attempt to draw a picture of background for that persons beliefs about writing-in-books.   For each respondent, I started to note things like their birth place, childhood location, heritage, parental birth/allegiances, current location …. when really NONE of that matters.

I could just as fervently abhor feet touching books if I were born to a devout Hindu family in India, as if I were born to conservative Catholic family in Midwestern America, perhaps having come across the idea through a friend, or a book, or …. completely on my own!  Or, I could be born of a devout Hindu family, but have rejected Hinduism, only to have come to that belief from other influences.  Or… ANY number of situations.

Yes, we receive many of our values, traditions, rituals via our birth, but those are often – but not always – changed and morphed over time and space.  Indeed, I argued for this in this marginalia post itself!  But I digress.

All this is to say, unless I asked each respondent to give their own bio synopsis, along with the freedom to include whatever information seemed pertinent to them, in this situation, it felt very wrong to have any other information beyond initials.

Thank  you to LB (one of the respondents) who called me out on this.  At first I told her how I had arrived at those descriptions, and she saw where I was coming from, but I’m not sure she was convinced.  Neither was I, and it has been eating at me in the days since, so I as of today, I have updated that post, removing those personal descriptions.  I thought I would paste them here both to provide context for this commentary, and as sort of a penance/reminder of my own nearsightedness… but a cut and paste error has lost them to cyber ether.  For the better.

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In closing, though I don’t usually like to veer toward opinion, but I can’t help but get some thoughts out.  All of this under-girds some of why I’m driven to create these culture capsules, or draw artful versions representations of a person or family, or explore and unpack traditions …  and I hereby delete the rest of this text because it was too preachy!  I think I’ve made my point.

Off to cut up some more maps…