Pigeonholing, bane or benefit? – Part 1


How often have you pigeonholed someone? And do you find it a good or a bad thing?

This is something many of us face daily, and although it can be ‘convenient’ when we use it to assess others, it can be frustrating and even detrimental when others use it to categorize us. It’s one of those quandaries that makes me smile in some cases, and annoys the hell out of me at other times, especially when convenience turns to unthinking laziness. In spite of its convenience, pigeonholing is generally seen as negative and limiting, where we feel that we’re ‘missing out’, or being ‘sold short’ especially when someone pigeonholes us – our true talents, character, and uniqueness being discarded in favour of a glib, standardized, not fully representative stereotype.

It was an incident a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking about it. I was chatting to someone I’d recently met socially. We were enjoying a drink and she asked me “What type of music do you like?” This is always a line of conversation I enjoy, because music is one of my passions and I appreciate many genres, and many different artists – it’s an invitation to ‘open the floodgates’ and enthuse about a whole host of fine tunes and stories. Now my response surprisingly often catches many people out when I explain my broad interest, and it’s very difficult for me to pinpoint a preference for one over another. My view is that if a piece of music resonates and moves you that should be good enough, you shouldn’t feel the need to limit yourself by blind loyalty to one artist or style. On hearing this explanation she pressed me again, because my answer didn’t seem to fit with her predetermined set of criteria.   So at her insistence to choose my ‘most favourite’ I plumped for ‘Latin’ – because some of the sublime pieces from Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, and Joao Gilberto who shaped the ‘bossa nova’ sound of the late 1950’s and early 60’s, will always stand out for me as some of the great sounds of cool sophistication. Equally, the dance rhythms that emanated from South America somehow always stir up the passion and get my feet moving. Whenever I hear the Latin beat I instinctively think ‘Good Times!’

Her response was startling, “You like Latin? I’d never have guessed that. You’re a white guy! White guys like rock music!” I was laughing at her incredulity at this point. I pointed out that I enjoyed rock music just as much, and named a few favourites of mine. So why was this smart, discerning lady with a West Indian culture, who grew up living in cosmopolitan cities in the USA and UK,  pre-determining what I should and shouldn’t be like based on my ethnic background? Dare I say her reaction was a natural one that any of us could make when responding to any given situation – relying on our preconceived notions, our loyalties, our background, and the limitation of our life experience.  As the evening progressed, we talked more, and very quickly any pre-conceived notions we may have had gave way to a greater mutual admiration of each other’s uniqueness.

I suppose my take on this incident is that this represents a trend I see in society, which I find limiting and very often counter-productive. The ease where people quickly categorize, and settle on one aspect of that person to define them, which in reality falls short of the uniqueness and extraordinary potential an individual can display, and the contribution they can ultimately provide.

To be continued …

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