If I can make one person think once more about one issue, I've done all I can. Maybe I take things too seriously...or maybe you don't take things seriously enough.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Never Is Enough

I find that I'm always at my most thoughtful (some would say soppy) late at night, when everyone around me is asleep and I appear to have the world to myself. Of course, when I'm at home, this is a lot earlier than when I'm at uni, but that's beside the point. What's important is that in these quiet times, when the only noise around me is the whirr of a computer fan and the silent noise of trees, I'm able to think with a degree of clarity, and perhaps melancholy, that I'm not really able to access at any other time.

I was always a dramatic person, in all senses of the word: I enjoyed (and still enjoy) acting, and was also careful to surround myself with drama. In this way, secondary school was very good for me, as there is no way to guarantee drama like shoving a thousand hormonal teenagers into half a square kilometre. I spent about 6 years in various different places, but all of them had the same vibe, and in that 6 years I learnt a lot that interests me, and a bit that's important to me. Now, if you don't mind me preaching for a little while, I'd like to elaborate a little on one of the second.

I am, and always have been, a geek. By all possible standards of the word, I was a major, major geek. Computer literate before anyone my age that I knew, my primary school called upon me to solve tech problems, before the called upon a staff member. I was academically sound, particularly strong in mathematics and science, and I wasn't particularly interested in sport. Jesus, I had a bloody telescope.

This didn't change as I grew up (the geekiness, not the telescope). However, it reached a point where I realised that there was something about my geekiness that was not necessarily an asset, socially speaking. I discovered that many people did not, in fact, enjoy science that much, and particularly did not take kindly to my science test scores. In essence, it occured to me that maybe, in order to get people to like me, it would be a sensible idea to dumb down.

So I adapted. I adapted and I learnt. I learnt how to hide the scientific interest, how to hide my enjoyment of videogames, how to hide the fact that I could while away several hours by absorbing myself in Lord of the Rings or 1984 or whatever book came my way. I also learnt that, in the absence of being good-looking, I had to rely on other traits: I fell back on sarcasm and sympathy.

The more astute among you will have realised where I'm going about this, but I'll be clear about the matter anyway: I'm referring specifically to the phenomenon of 'labelling'. Also known as stereotyping, this particular phenomenon is well known, and is best illustrated in the highly shallow world of secondary school. Now, before you quickly hit the 'home' button in an attempt to escape, let me clarify. I'm not going to preach about how labelling is some horrible thing that we should all avoid. This is not my high horse, and I'm not going to pretend that this little blog will fix the ills of the world; and furthermore, I'm not trying to get revenge on anyone I feel may have victimised me in the past. All I want to do is point out the few things I've learnt about labels:

1) They will define you.

People don't like this one much. People prefer to gloss over the issue, prefer to say "Oh no, I would never be so rash as to stereotype someone". Despite this, it happens every day. Consider the panicky white woman who crosses the road when the black kid is walking down the street. She may not actually be racist, frankly, but the stereotype of troublemakers has a depressingly black label attached to it. So she sees a black kid walking towards her, and makes a cognitive leap.

It happens when you let people know a little about yourself. "I play Dungeons and Dragons". In their head, a whole set of conclusions are leapt to from this point: he's shy, he's reclusive, he's good with numbers, he's a virgin, girls never talk to him, etc. "I like going out": he's a drunk, he's promiscuous (a great word, by the way), he's an idiot, he's talkative and he's not a hard worker. Whenever you have a form that includes the big box with the title "Tell us a bit about yourself", what it's really saying is 'Please help us put you in a box'.

2) You can choose them.

Strangely, this one is not hit upon so often. But in reality, there is very little preventing the vast majority of people being able to pick any of the labels they want. I went for sarcastic and nice because I was those things anyway, but if I wanted to become the popular, loud guy, I could have done that too. In some ways, this mitigates the affect of number 1: at least you can choose what conclusion others will jump to.

3) They don't matter.

They don't. Not a jot. It took me way too long to realise that, actually, it didn't matter whether people thought of me as 'the nice guy' or 'the geeky guy'. The only people who were going to rely on those labels were those who didn't know me very well, and frankly, those people are not very high up on my list of "People whose opinions I give a shit about". Anyone I spent any iota of time with will know that there is more to me than that, and that perhaps I shouldn't be judged on what I immediately appear to be. What's worse is that I only realised that in year 12. What a fool I am!

But for those of you still in education, let me add this conciliatory note: anyone who doesn't care about you, will be gone. I am currently in touch with 7 people from my secondary school (I counted my phonebook), and I don't feel like I should be in contact with more. These 7 people were not necessarily my closest friends in school, either, but in hindsight, they were probably my best ones: after all, they're the only ones still making an effort, a year later, to put up with my bullshit. And what more can I ask for than that?