April 6, 2010
As a child, there was always one geometric shape, if you will, that I strongly disliked:
The straight line.
Straight lines were always so rigid, so severe, and dreadfully boring. They were fixed, cold, unfeeling little marks that, as I saw it, had no character. I far preferred to take my crayon and haphazardly smear blue violet swirly circles all over the page, resulting in a playful demonstration of my uninhibited, childlike innocence. There were no rules in drawing. Anything went, and the paper was mine to explore.
Now, as an adult, my disdain for lines has grown to be even more so. The colors of the lines we draw as adults aren't in Crayola's collection; these lines are invisible, yet are very, very real. Adults draw imaginary lines between one another.
They still represent all that is rigid, severe, boring, cold and unfeeling, but now in a way that has far greater ramifications than whether or not my paper looks pretty. And our lives–what was once a blank slate–become defined by the lines that we draw.
Growing up, we drew some of our earliest invisible lines separating girls versus boys and adults versus children. Those were the categories, and we organized the people around us accordingly.
As we progressed through school, we learned to draw more invisible lines between the haves and have nots, the popular and the unpopular, and slowly began drawing the first segments of the line that would eventually divide black from white and tan to brown.
Within those categories, we even went as far as to draw more lines to distinguish between smart versus not, attractive versus not, athletic versus not and many others.
As young adults, we then transitioned into making longer, thicker lines that were even more rigid and fixed. Socioeconomic status became even more of a concern, as we attempted to recognize our own and then transcend the lines we inherited from our parents, as we tried to rewrite what was already there.
In order to do so, we then drew lines between those people that we felt would favor the preferred outcome versus the rest that wouldn't. We drew lines between white and blue collars, the successful versus the unsuccessful, and that which we wanted to be, versus that which we didn't.
Today, we're still constantly drawing lines for ourselves. As the world has gotten bigger, we've had to organize its people into more and more complex categories to allow for the vast diversity. We now have drawn lines between rich versus poor, republican versus democrat, citizen versus immigrant, conservative versus liberal, educated versus uneducated, capitalist versus communist, pragmatic versus idealistic, first versus third world and many, many more.
There's a reason, however, that we draw these stiff lines; oftentimes, it isn't for the sake of pigeonholing others, but rather, in the name of finding our own position relative to them.
As humans, we need to know where we stand in order to derive our perspectives, our sense of understanding and our self-esteem, and the only way we can do that is by figuring out where others are located on the spectrum. So we label. We judge. We categorize. We draw our lines. And in the end, it's our lines that show us who we are.
While such lines are useful in terms of organizing our life and the world around us–essentially helping us find our identity–the danger to this tendency is that if we're not careful, we can draw too many lines that end up forming a cube that does more harm than help, because we become boxed in. And naturally, when we're boxed into a confined space, there's only so much room for us to grow.
Lines limit our experience. Once we make them, we're hesitant to step over them. It confuses us, and causes us anxiety.
Am I on this side of the line or the other?
And that's why I dislike them so. By drawing lines, we're forcing ourselves to choose one side or the other.
But nothing in this world is that black and white.