Defying categorization

“Categorizing people is not something we do here” was the slogan used during my college orientation to teach us impressionable freshmen not to discriminate, generalize, or judge based on a person’s skin color, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

Since embracing diversity is second nature for most New England liberal arts students, that slogan became the punchline of many fine jokes, but what’s really funny is how far some people are taking the act of categorization.

Reading Thought Catalog, one would think introverted people are an oppressed minority. The site recently ran a list article on things you should never say to an introvert, and a POV piece on how the deck of life is stacked against the less-talkative, because things like job interviews are dependent entirely on sociability and charisma.

I’m not going to argue that being outgoing doesn’t make certain parts of life easier, but the whole idea of categorizing people as either “introverted” or “extroverted’ is an oversimplification worthy of a “Physics for English Majors” class.

Obviously, when many individuals act a certain way, it’s easy to recognize patterns of behavior. But to extrapolate that and apply one’s observations to every introverted or extroverted person is crazy. We’re not robots, are we?

What’s the threshold for introversion anyway? Should the American Psychiatric Association add some diagnostic criteria to the DSM-V? What if someone doesn’t fit the template of “introvert” or “extrovert,” just as most people don’t fit classic social stereotypes like “jock” or “nerd?”

The answer to all of those questions is the same: human beings are individuals, and their behavior can’t be accounted for by gross generalizations. They are conscious of their actions and capable of changing. Labeling people just obfuscates that fact.

I’ve always thought my generation knew enough about the dangers of generalizations based on race, religion, or sexual orientation, but here we are creating new generalizations based on how much a person talks at parties. One of those Thought Catalog articles was followed by “The Current State of Public Discourse” on the site’s feed. A tad ironic, no?

Everyone wants to make sense of the chaos that is human interaction, but that chaos is the essential fact of it. Individuality makes our actions unpredictable, and it can’t be any other way.

Categorizing people may give the categorizer a sense of serenity, but it also dehumanizes the people being categorized by making it seem like they are not in control of their own actions. That’s why it is not something we do here.


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  1. #1 by Big Blogger of Knowledge on May 3, 2013 - 8:00 am

    Great post! I agree with you completely. While it can be helpful in a very general way to personally categorize people as “introverts” and “extroverts,” it’s not very accurate. Everyone has traits of introversion and extroversion – just different mixtures of the two. It’s not as if introverts and extroverts are from different planets.

    • #2 by lib1187 on May 3, 2013 - 7:18 pm

      Exactly! Thanks for commenting!

  2. #3 by missredlipstick on May 3, 2013 - 6:59 pm

    I think thats very clever observation, I personally think from an advertising perspective classifying behaviours or people make it easier to make generalisations and that makes creating a advert which may or may not be a success seem like less of a risk. Which in essence it will always be. As you said everyone is different but I truly believe people like to pidgin hole not because its less of a risk . Does it depersonalise the adverts ? yes , does that effect the adverts effectiveness ? Not always .. some very popular brands were created and fuelled on the back of classification. Is that ethical … well honestly there isn’t a lot i would class is purely ethical these days. Sorry to hijack your post just wanted to give another spin on it

    Miss R

    • #4 by lib1187 on May 3, 2013 - 7:17 pm

      No problem! Thanks for commenting!

      I agree that, when creating ads, some form of generalization is needed, but that’s because products are being sold to large groups of people who are determined to want or need them. That’s a different scenario from individual relationships, though. It’s obviously difficult to get to know someone by just relying on pre-existing stereotypes or categories.

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