I grew up in a world that liked it’s boxes.
It liked being able to slot people and activities and music and styles of dress and relationships and beliefs neatly into categories that they then used to judge those very beliefs and relationships and styles of dress and music and activities and people.
The world I grew up in claimed it’s boxes from a religious perspective but other worlds I know claim them from cultural, socio-economic or simply ‘tribal’ bases.
And this idea of knowing who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ is a very human way to function. It makes sense, if we go back far enough in time to a world where anyone who wasn’t part of my tribe was likely to kill or rape us – or both.
In tribal societies the homicide rate can be upwards of 50% so this isn’t some crazy, made-up thing to be paranoid about – this is actually a life or death question, because almost all of this killing and raping took place as intertribal conflict: people from one tribe going and attacking the people of the next tribe along – to expand their territory, protect their hunting and foraging ground, or simply lower the risk of those same people coming and doing the same thing to them!
So knowing the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the people around us made sense 10,000 years ago. But times have changed.
Nowadays we live in far more complex social structures, where we not only live side-by-side with people who were possibly born far away from us, speak different languages from us, believe different things than us or come from different socio-economic backgrounds than us.
The problem is that our brains have evolved very slowly on this particular point leaving us still grappling with the desire for boxes while struggling with the impacts of the way we treat each other when those boxes are reinforced.
And although others may be able to approach this from perspectives shaped by race, sexual or gender identity or different disabilities, abilities or socioeconomic positions, whoever we are I think it’s hugely important to recognize the value of doing the work to allow our preconceptions and underlying assumptions to disintegrate so that we can meet each and every person we come into contact with as simply another human.
You may say ‘that sounds like a lot of work’ and you’d be right.
You may ask ‘so what’s in it for me?’ and that would be a fair question.
The answer, I think, is that there’s a lot in it for you.
First of all, when we make space for our preconceptions and assumptions to disintegrate, we get to meet ourselves in our most real, most honest form because the thing about these ideas we carry around that formulate our ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ thinking, is that they can stop us from knowing ourselves.
If I have a rule that says that a ‘good’ woman will always wear her hair long, then I can never ask myself if I’d actually quite like to have short hair. (The answer is that I love how it feels, but I hate going to the hairdresser every month so it’s back to being long again – but I couldn’t have told you that fifteen years ago!)
Or if I have a rule that says that it’s wrong to talk about my pain or my excitement, than it will make it very difficult for me to be able to identify when I am in pain or am excited.
Or if I have a rule that says that I always have to say ‘yes’, then I will burn myself out trying to please everyone, but I will also end up feeling very hurt by people around me who have learned that to care well for the people they are responsible for will sometimes require that they also say, ‘no’.
Secondly, when we make space for our preconceptions and assumptions to disintegrate, we get to decide what we actually think, based on our own values. Because here’s the thing: sometimes the rules we were given – even about other people who are very different from us and face very different realities to us – go against who we actually are and how we actually want to live.
And living with that cognitive dissonance can be very emotionally exhausting, not to mention difficult to navigate.
Finally, when we make space for our preconceptions and assumptions to disintegrate, we create a world where we can ask new questions and imagine a different future. Wherever we’re coming from these days, I hear a lot of people who are struggling to feel like there’s a lot of hope or possibility for positive change around them.
One of my favourite lines is “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”. Our boxes and structures, preconceptions and assumptions have gotten us this far. They have achieved what they’re going to achieve. But until we allow space for disintegration and eventual reintegration to occur, we won’t be able to reimagine new possibilities or have any hope of achieving the kinds of environmental, social, political or economic changes we are going to need to make in the years and decades to come.
So if you are currently navigating the discomfort of deconstruction and reconstruction I want to encourage you. Whatever has brought you to this place has done you a great service, and if you are able to persevere through this process – preferably together with a trusted family member, friend, coach or therapist – then it will be to your great benefit.
If you are currently poised in the unenviable place of being uncomfortable with your belief systems but unsure of what comes next, I encourage you to take the gamble – take the plunge – and see where this road might lead you. I would also strongly encourage you to take someone with you for this ride!
If you are currently comfortable with your preconceptions and assumptions, I’m going to encourage you to take some time to think about how these rules and messages show up in your life. Are they ever a problem for you? Do you find yourself compartmentalizing or explaining away why this is fine in this circumstance, even though you would never be okay with it in a different circumstance?
And finally, if you have somehow read to the end of this post, but don’t actually think you are dealing with any preconceptions, assumptions, rules or messages, I’m going to encourage you to consider that basically all of us have these ideas in our minds until such time as we have done this process. And I personally suspect that we continue to be vulnerable to forming these types of opinions even after we think we’ve finished the process. Because these concepts are encoded so deeply into the fabric of our society, we have to develop a mindset that constantly evaluates the ideas that come into our minds with the values we know we so deeply hold.
And like someone lovingly restoring an old piece of furniture, it is the disintegration step that makes room for the reintegration and restoration of the piece to become something far more beautiful, timely and useful than it may have ever been before.
If you would like to discuss your disintegration/reintegration or deconstruction/reconstruction journey with me, I’d love to hear from you. My personal experience of this process was deeply rooted in spiritual trauma and a deeply religious upbringing but regardless of where your journey is rooted, it would be my pleasure to explore these rules and expectations with you and see whether you can find some truth that might help you live a life that feels a little more free.