Bestowed Identities

We just want to classify people into stereotypes. It is much easier that way. Simply be blinkered to the uniqueness in people and associate only a handful of attributes to them. Those attributes which match the stereotype they are allocated. That way, we think we can predict how they will respond to stimuli. Ideally they wouldn’t, but because so many people classify them in that stereotype, they too start identifying themselves with it.

That’s how we lose the uniqueness in us — by adhering to pre-allocated stereotypes that we don’t even choose ourselves.

I think of myself as dramatic. I think of it it in a nice way. But if I look back, the people around me have told that to me more often than I have told myself. And as I sit here typing, I think that I’ve identified to an attribute that the people around me forced me to accept. This seems to be a gradual process. It all starts with poetry. Yes. Poetry is impractical. And to be a good poet you have to be dramatic! Another assumption! It might actually be true because I don’t have the evidence to state otherwise and if I stop to research I will probably lose this train of thought. But to me it seems that I chose to be dramatic at times purely to maintain and fuel my identity as a poet. Is that bad?

Every time I tell people I write poetry, they immediately ask me if I have published anything. I don’t know why they do that. Is it a challenge to my identity as a poet? “You can’t call yourself a poet if you haven’t published anything.” Probably. And most of the times my reply to them is: I haven’t, yet. But I intend to. Again, is this me trying to protect my identity as a poet?

But why attack my identity in the first place? Probably because I am engineer and an MBA working with a bank. What if I meet someone new and introduce myself as poet? My thought experiment reveals, that even then I will be asked if I have written something famous or well known in popular culture. Why? Why can’t I just write and be known as a poet? Probably because, as a norm we choose to identify people based on what wins them their bread.

Or it is simply the case with these kind of identities that if you’re any good as an artist, you will be famous. Nobody asks me when I tell them that I am a banker whether I was instrumental in forming an RBI guideline, or was in the news for making a record sale, or if I was planning to start a bank of my own. They are happy knowing what bank I am working with. A few go a level deeper — what role, what location but that’s about it.

We need just enough information to be able to classify them into one of our stereotypes. If I am a banker — the brand and role is enough. If a poet, then am I famous or am I in shambles? Nobody will ask if I am making a difference at the place of work. Am I increasing effectiveness? Am I writing good poetry?

No.

We just want to classify people so that it’s easier to deal with them. And it happens to all of us and we are ourselves the perpetrators. I have been asked to repair a fan because I am engineer. I was also asked to repair a mobile phone. Sometimes a mixer grinder. It just helps classifying me as an engineer. It is a different thing whether I know how to do those tasks. As a banker, I have been asked about IndusInd Bank’s current account norms. Or HDFC Bank’s debit card charges. I work for neither. I can wager a guess about the answers but would I really know everything? Another time a friend sent me her account number and asked me to activate some feature on her account. I refused of course. I am A banker. I am not YOUR banker. Stereotypes are harmful you see? And these are just occupational stereotypes.

At a house party, I met an old school friend after eight years. She was surprised that I was at a party. And positively shocked when I poured myself some rum. She had classified me as the studious boy who would always tread the ‘right’ path. Sleep early. Rise early. Meet friends for cricket. Never smoke or drink. If at all I attended a party I would have to be the one with the sprite. And Study. Yes I did that in school. But school was over eight years ago. Yet we look at people from the lens of how we once knew them. Primarily because it is easy. I am not saying that who I am now is the real me, but I am certainly not who I was eight years ago.

Yes, it’s easy to classify. And convenient But my only complaint is that when we ourselves start accepting the attributes bestowed upon us, we forget who we really are. We start subscribing to an external identity. A set of ideas of how we must be. Don’t let that happen. Don’t lose your uniqueness. You can hide it and keep it safe or you can spread it flaunt it and spread it across the world.

Just don’t lose it for fuck’s sake.

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