Focus on Caring: Boundaries that constrain us

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How are you defined?  What kind of box would you fit into?  Here are a few characteristics some might assign to me:

  • White American
  • Baby Boomer
  • Pacific Northwest resident
  • Wife
  • Mother
  • Sister, aunt, niece, cousin, friend
  • Seattle Seahawks super fan

Box with color cubesAll items on that list are correct but if that’s all that people see about me, they’ve greatly reduced the trueness of who I am because my box also contains the following:

  • spiritual but definitely not religious person
  • free-thinker (is that redundant?)
  • writer of things that matter to me
  • advocate of the elderly and just about everyone else who crosses my path in life

Setting boundaries between who I am, and who you are, benefits no one.

Compassion facesLeonard Pitts, Jr. spoke at a TEDx event in February of this year.  His 20 minute talk, The Boundaries We Choose, is readily available on YouTube so I strongly suggest you seek it out.  He suggests, “Our labels shouldn’t define who we are and place us in a strict box.”  He then spoke of labels one might put in his box: African American, Christian, Husband, Father, Fan of the LA Lakers.  If you’ve read any of Mr. Pitts’ literary pieces in the Miami Herald or any of his books, you already know that he is more than the contents his box may imply.  (To be sure, there is a very valid reason why he was named the 2004 Pulitzer Price Winner for Commentary.)

During his February TEDx talk, he provided a fabulous story that illustrates the downside of labels or identifying markers.  I’ll let you discover that beautiful and clarifying story by watching his TEDx video, but for the purposes of this blog posting, I will provide you with one of his statements from that video.

Our bonds are more than connecting with certain markers that define people.

Examine, if you will, your way of describing something that happened to you during the course of your day.

Cup of CoffeeWhen you relay a story about a person taking his or her time in line at the Starbucks store, holding everyone up for far too long a time, do you define the person this way?

This Asian woman in front of me acted like she owned the damn place.  She was so selfish, taking her damn time ordering her fancy drink when all I wanted was a damn cup of brewed coffee.

Or did you simply say

This damn person in front of me took so much time ordering a fancy damn cup of coffee that I  just about ran out of time to get my plain and simple cup of brewed coffee.

You see, why do race – or even gender – matter?  What do those particular markers add to the story you’re telling?  Most of the time, I would say that they mattered nothing at all.  This story simply involves someone delaying your order of coffee and pissing you off.  It has nothing to do with a person’s race, gender, stature in society, sexual preference, etc.  To this day, when someone uses a descriptor as sampled above, more times than not, I’ll ask, “What does that have to do with it?”

If we keep setting up boundaries that separate us from each other, we’re reinforcing differences that many groups in society of all races, creeds, and ideologies strive to perpetuate.  Why would you want to be guilty of that social misstep?

RoadwayLet’s face it, when you have a flat tire on the way to work on Highway I-405 and someone stops to help change your tire, you don’t give a hoot what labels may define that person.  You’re just thrilled that one of the 100s of commuters that already drove past you cared enough to interrupt their day to help you with yours.  Right?  You had a need; someone filled it.

VehicleOr consider this example: you’re driving around the super-mall parking lot during the winter holiday season looking for a parking spot, an endeavor that after 15 minutes of time seems to be a lost cause.  Finally, you see the back-up lights of a Toyota Corolla and presto change-o, you’ve secured a parking space.  When you relay this episode to someone over drinks later that evening do you describe the car or the person?  You describe the vehicle because that’s what was important to the story: a Toyota Corolla got out of its parking space so you could aim your Honda CRV into said space.  It didn’t matter if the driver was young, old, male, female, bi-racial, skinny, or fat; you had a need and someone filled it.

Can we all agree that what makes a person is what’s inside of the person?  What’s inside of a person may be the devil incarnate, but you only have the right to curse that devilish person, not the outward markers of that person.

And of course, you have the right to praise the person who proves to be an angel without wings, but there’s no reason to assign outwardly identifiable markers to that person.  What mattered is what that person did or said to qualify as an angel in disguise.  Am I right?

There, I’ve said my piece, now I’m gonna go.


3 thoughts on “Focus on Caring: Boundaries that constrain us

    […] hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series and will read the previous Focus on Caring posts: Boundaries that constrain us; The spineless bystander effect; Looking for trouble; The ties that bind […]


    […] on Caring: Boundaries that constrain us; Focus on Caring: The Spineless Bystander […]


    […] I hope you’ll read the first installment of my Focus on Caring series: Focus on Caring: Boundaries that constrain us. […]


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