“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”
― Walt Whitman
Labels. Highly prized by consumer advocates everywhere and life lines for obsessively organized school teachers and secretaries (sorry about the labels folks).
But when it comes to people—most would agree it highly important to resist LABELS whenever possible. We are all guilty of applying them of course. Our brains are wired to make quick approximations built on centuries of adaptation designed to guarantee our evolution.
Countless instant, first impressions are clicked like snapshots in our brains every day; and way to quickly for our better nature and years of education to catch up to and edit.
Yes we sure do have difficulty in shaking loose from them ourselves.
Labels are great for those that want easy answers and hurried decisions. They are championed by those with counterfeit intentions that want to look busy and important.
Labels hit directly at appearances and feel very satisfying to blurt out when one is frustrated and feeling insecure.
And deep down, there is a part of me that WISHES I could adhere better to the surety and permanence of fitting under some kind of label said by someone.
But only the noble ones of course.
Yet even simple, unremarkable people like myself don’t come out being so simple once we analyze our condition more closely. In fact, when I think more about myself and zoom in the microscope, the more unrepresented and downright elusive I feel in fitting under most labels.
Growing up I was always frustrated in school by how unsatisfying and misleading various personality assessments were for me when I filled them out as a student. Often I found myself filling out the ovals that I THOUGHT I should be filling out.
When the scoring was over I found the grade label I got to be completely alien to how I felt about myself. Certainly it wasn’t very enlightening or helpful.
I mean just look at me. I am much more deeply flawed and brilliant than I could ever reveal by just filling out some form.
Consider these anomalies just for starters:
I am outgoing in some situations but painfully shy in others.
I work hard but I am lazy.
I have a deep wanderlust coupled with a deep dread of becoming too disoriented or homesick on a trip.
I am a great teacher but an incompetent student.
I can be gregarious meeting people informally but extremely shy at formal meetings.
I am a Type B person overall but still form goals and organize things in my own Type A way, based on IDEAS first.
I rebel against hierarchical systems but still desire to be seen as the best at something.
I love conceiving of “out of the box” creative lessons for students but deeply hate it for myself.
I am a fully formed man loaded with integrity and values that is until the particulars of some argument comes to challenge and expose me more honestly.
I dance well but only in the company of my own students.
I have deep daydreams but can’t come up with a single idea while brainstorming at a meetings.
I love to explore new places but am completely afraid of change.
I can maneuver around well in new places but can barely navigate around in my own surroundings.
I love of being alone in the woods like Thoreau but am endlessly fascinated by exploring suburban shopping centers.
I love discussions but HATE arguments.
I am a pacifist who takes out all his aggression on inanimate objects.
I can focus on one project solely for a awhile but can’t resist the urge to have that one project segue way to a million other related ones.
Fortunately we can take heart by the all-encompassing acceptance of all of these contradictions when we read Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Because he includes the good with the bad and all of our hang-ups and foibles as part of the rhapsodic adventure that we are being urged to take. All of it is celebrated.
And I guess I would have to say, that despite my lack of marketability, I can rejoice that the same contradictions and weaknesses that makes my life so unpredictable and seemingly limited; also equips me with a sensitivity for doing exactly what I am doing at the very same pace I am doing it at right now. It means further that, if nothing else, it is a good and worthwhile thing—this trying to merge a passion for living with a career in the hopes that the two will become one and raise more awareness on the precious nature of our informal moments.
And it also means most significantly, that the yearning to endlessly write and write and write some more is at least a positive sign that we haven’t given up on our dreams just yet! After all, every person’s life span contains its own original “Leaves of Grass” documented evolution that should remain a work in progress (warts and all) till the very end. (Until the next beginning?)