Don’t Put People in Boxes

I hope you have a few minutes. This post has scenes and stuff. Good clips to watch. Grab your coffee or potato chips and plan to stay a bit.

So. Stereotypes. Categorizing people. Putting people in little boxes of identity, smacking labels on them and denying their inherent majesty. Bad, bad idea.

I have random 90s movies that waft through my head at the strangest hours, giving my own realizations greater clarity, and providing evidence for all my fancy hypotheses, which I dutifully share here, everyday, for the whopping cost of zero dollars. Usually these movies are written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who I hope will make my movie biography one day, if he’s still alive. But then I also often think about Pretty Woman. 

Remember that scene where Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian, goes in the fancy boutique with the hoity toity women to buy clothes but the women are mean to her and turn her away because she looks like a hooker? So she walks back onto the street in her high boots and short short skirt feeling like a loser?

And then she tells Richard, her beau, what happened, and he makes arrangements with a nice woman to get her some nice clothes, and then she feels all pretty and very Cinderella and walks back to the hoity toity shop to show the women her new look? And she says, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” And walks out?

What a great scene. You can watch it here if you feel like it.


Kids, this scene is a lesson in “The Perils of Stereotyping,” which is what narrow-minded people do, and which you shouldn’t ever do, because when you do it, you end up becoming the loser, and it is also not what the Good Teacher teaches, and the Good Teacher’s message is, Everybody is welcome at this table. 

(Now, if someone shows you over and over again that he or she is an asshole, or if you get a bad gut feeling, you do not have to eat with that person or be their friend. Just an aside in case you’re picking apart everything I say but you’re sitting at your desk too afraid to ask questions.)

Stereotyping is a word that comes from the French, because all things French are oo la la and I love it, and it references when typeset gets pressed into a plate and is irreversible or unchangeable. And so when we stereotype, we press someone with a particular image or typeset in our minds, and we keep them there, and it makes us feel safe, usually, or adhere to our narrow conceptions, and we deny that person’s dignity, humanity, and capability for transformation.

So some of us have the nagging habit of doing this with race, with gender, with age, with religion, with industry, with career title, with clothing, with body size and shape, with economic status, et cetera, et cetera.

Don’t do that! Mm-kay?

The next movie I’d like to point you to is Jerry Maguire. And it’s seriously weird how often I think about this movie. It’s just super well-written and a kind of universal hero’s journey tale, full of all kinds of beautiful insights about friendship and career and love and truth and honor and all that.

Jerry fucking goes out on a limb and tells his sports agency that they’re all obsessed with money, with getting too many clients, and they’ve forgotten what matters. Jerry is like the Jesus of the sports agent industry in this movie—speaking truth, fighting the system against greed, getting a little suttin’ suttin’ sweet meat on the side.

And shit, this does not go very well at first. By speaking real truth, Jerry does not win friends and influence people! Because people don’t really want to hear truth! It’s true! And it sucks! Truth is this thing that takes people a lot of adjustment because most people want to live like robots in little boxes because they think that’s where happiness lies, but then they just end up sitting on their asses most of the night watching TV and forming addictive behaviors and then always being lonely inside!

But let’s get back to our scene.

The stereotype part comes in when Jerry is trying to close the deal on this one young white football player, because if he can keep this one young white up-and-coming football player who everyone wants, then he can maintain his credibility and form his own agency and regain the respect he lost when he wrote this mission statement about accepting fewer clients and less money, which got him fired, which left him with only one person who supported him, which was Dorothy Boyd, because she was inspired and believed in him, and he promised her he would have a medical plan.

Oh man, to have a Dorothy Boyd in your life. I mean, wouldn’t that be the essence?

So Jerry is massaging this relationship with the dad of the young white up-and-coming football player, and all seems to be going well, but then Jerry takes a break to walk around the convention center representing his other client, Rod Tidwell, who is a real pain in the ass but also abundantly lovable. The only problem is, the white middle-of-the-country dad finds out that Jerry is spending all this time with the black Rod Tidwell, and the dad is racist, so the dad ends up signing with another agent because, as he says to Jerry, “You were with the black fella.”

Oh man, this was a hard, hard blow.

And this scene below is not that scene, but it’s so fucking good you have to watch it.

So Jerry keeps getting down to only one on his path of personal enlightenment. One client. One employee. One semi-girlfriend. But they’re loyal. And sometimes one is all it takes.

And do you know what happens? Great things. It’s a bit of a long road, but Jerry ends up with a much better life, and he sort of single-handedly changes the industry, and he’s a better person at the end, and he knows who is loyal to him and he knows what matters.

You just can’t undervalue loyalty, even when the person who shows up being loyal does not look like the person on your stupid vision board.

Yesterday I had this awesome moment with a homeless man. I was driving through the city and I stopped at a light and was dancing in my car, because I always fucking dance in my car because I have this awesome stereo system and I used to have a car whose radio was broken and I could only listen to music through my phone speaker, and now that I have an awesome stereo system I fucking blast it. So I was listening to Lizzo’s song “Boys” and bopping around and this homeless man saw me and started dancing too, and he wanted to hear the song, so I rolled down my window and he stood outside my door dancing with me for a bit, and man, he had some moves even though he was holding a cane. And he said something about women having balls and I told him I didn’t have any cash but I did have some nuts but I didn’t think nuts would be good for him because he didn’t really have any teeth. And we kept dancing. He just waved his hand and said, “Come back and see me,” and I nodded, and then the light turned green and I drove on, and it was a very fun moment, and I would not have had that moment if I had been bogged down by stereotypes. 

So now, your reward for sticking it out to the end of this awesome, majestic piece of writing is to hit play on this song “Boys” and dance your ass off!  Whoot!


(If you can’t recognize Lizzo’s brilliance I’m likely not inviting you to dinner.)


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

One thought on “Don’t Put People in Boxes”

  1. Reblogged this on Notes and commented:
    The only people I place in a box, are the ones who place other people in boxes (of prejudices) or coffins i.e. murderers. Even though I am anti capital punishment but I believe that anyone who kills a human being (no matter what is your definition of who qualifies as a human), should be placed in a box, a jail funded by people who like to stay safe and peaceful. Behind bars, such people should be put to serve the others without them interacting with anybody freely and/or independently until their time is over in prison or life.

    Jerry Maguire is my favorite but not Pretty Woman. I did enjoy your write-up and the food I was having while reading here. Have a wonderful day, or night depending on where you are. 🌹💖👍


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