Today a friend of mine who is known for bringing up great discussion topics posted a short video clip of Russell Brand in an interview. Another friend of mine posted a separate clip of Brand on a talk show, also on Facebook. In both clips, Brand managed to make a very powerful statement to the effect that we are not who we think we are. It appeared that neither interviewer was prepared to take Brand seriously, and although I was not able to watch either the interview or the talk show in their entirety, it appeared that Brand's statements were just something he tossed out there, for whoever might latch onto the truth of what he was saying.
The friend who posted the interview clip commented that he doesn't find Brand funny, but that he does think that Brand is a very deep thinker. (For those who don't know Russel Brand, he is an English comedian, actor, radio host and author.) The discussion on Facebook then turned to how we tend to categorize people in various ways, and the fact that young people today are defying categorization in a big way. Brand is definitely one of those who defy categorization, and it's interesting, and probably not coincidence, that his surname, brand, means a type of identifying mark.
Looking at his biography, I see that Brand has led a life debauchery, with heavy drug and alcohol use, but that he has been sober since 2003. He was involved briefly with Hare Krishna, but then got into Transcendental Meditation, and credits his recovery from substance abuse to TM. His deep statements on the video clips posted on Facebook attest to the efficacy of meditation as a way to think deeply about ourselves, who we really are and why we are here.
Categorization is something that the brain does automatically, particularly after the age of about 7. We categorize people and things to make it easier to take in all the information about the world that is presented to us each day. The brain searches automatically and unconsciously for patterns, and pattern recognition is considered a hallmark of intelligence. Indeed, it is the basis for all our formal schooling. Without recognizing patterns, we cannot read, write, or do math. In this respect, our ability to categorize is a good thing.
Why, then, do so many people – particularly the young – defy categorization? Actually, I like to think that my own generation, the Baby Boomers, were big on defying categories, but when I look back, I see that we did so only to a certain extent. It seemed daring at the time, though. I see now that each and every generation defies social categorization in some form or other, while they are in their twenties, thirties, and forties, especially – while they have the time and energy to do so, and while they are still in the process of formulating who they are.
We can all continue to re-invent ourselves, but it seems that most people end up being "set" into certain social categories by the time they are in their fifties, or sometimes earlier. Maybe it has to do with the fact that defying categories means bucking the system, and that's hard work. It's so much easier, sometimes, to just try to fit in.
The most obvious types of categories are physical ones such as gender and race or ethnicity, but these days, even physical characteristics are harder to classify. There are more and more interracial marriages, with the result that many more people consider themselves members of more than one race or ethnic group. The United States now has its first biracial president.
As for gender, there are a growing number of people who are "intersex," which means that they have physical characteristics of both sexes. There are also people of one sex who were born into a body of one sex, but whose personality matrix is that of the opposite sex. There was a woman who went through a whole sex-change process, but kept his body's original childbearing organs, with the result that he was able to bear two children in an outwardly male body. There was another case recently of a little boy who wants to be a girl, and whose parents allow the child to dress as a girl. The news article focused on the fact that the school didn't want the child to use the girls' bathroom.
Social categorization here in the United States is huge, even though we live in a country that prides itself on the fact that there are no formal social classes. We classify people by age, kinship, nationality (separate from race or ethnicity), personality types, sexual orientation (separate from gender), religion or spiritual beliefs, education, occupation, and economic status. As soon as we meet a person, we begin to classify him or her according to the most salient, or obvious, clues, and we tend to filter out more subtle bits of information, with the result that we may think we know a person by the clothes she wears, the job he does, the book she wrote, or the protest rally that he participated in. More and more of us are making friends on social media whom we have never met in person, and we tend to believe that the person is the sum of his or her posts on Facebook or MySpace. Even if this turns out to be more or less true, we run the risk of developing a one-sided image of people based on what we think we know about them.
Author and public speaker Donald Miller says that there are dangers to allowing people to categorize us. When we allow others to put us into a certain category, we risk not being authentic because we feel we must play a certain role with respect to the other person. We begin to react to the other person from the framework of the role we are playing, rather than being real with the person. We start to filter out all the parts of us that don't fit neatly into the role we are playing. This leads not only to misunderstanding of others, but also a misunderstanding of ourselves. When we behave within the confines of social roles (wife, husband, teacher, student, boss, co-worker, sibling, parent, child, etc.) we begin to lose sight of ourselves as complex beings.
I believe that one of the unique things about being part of the human species is our ability to transcend our original physical, emotional, mental, causal, social, and religious programming. This is major part of the ongoing evolution of humanity. We are who we believe we are, in any given moment, and we cannot be defined for all time. We are living, growing beings who are constantly changing, constantly in the process of becoming something more.
We must begin to manifest who we truly are, rather than who other people think we are. We must bring out all the parts of ourselves, to know ourselves and to know others in a real way. When we begin to deal with the world from our authentic selves, rather than from a particular role or category, we begin to shine as human beings. This is not easy, because it may be upsetting to some of the people around us, but it is absolutely necessary for our continued spiritual unfoldment. :-)