Labels Gloss Over Who We Are

I read Tim West’s Sun morning column on whether he is an old man at the age of 64. I must say this debate about whether those of us in our 60’s are old, and if not when that will be, is getting to be an” old” to this reader. You read about it all the time as some of us struggle with our aging and what that truly means to us. Certainly, that dreaded letter from AARP calls us consider who we are in relation to what aging means to us personally.

Perhaps like all dichotomies it overly simplifies who we think we are and why we have to think about whether we are this or that in black and white terms. I think we are too influenced by a way of thinking too prevalent and is even a useless way of thinking about others and ourselves that exists in our American culture. It dichotomies between people which puts us in little boxes that can be checked off.

Am I old or young and if aging am I a senior citizen yet, middle-aged still, a young oldster on the way to geezerhood? Am I a white man or a black man or an Asian and what should I call myself if I’m of mixed racial parentage? Am I Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic and what should I call myself if my parents are of different religions? Am I a dreaded Liberal or a dreaded Conservative and could I have voted for Brady while voting for also for Obama? Am I heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or can I simply be a man. And if I’m a man, can I be sweet, kind, and relational without those qualities being called feminine? Can I be a member of the ACLU, but like to shoot guns and believe in the right to bear arms while also believing in gun control and giving the government certain powers to tap my phone to root out terrorists? Can I be a dreaded Zionist while advocating for Palestinian human rights?

What place is left in this country, this marketing culture, for people who refuse to be stereotyped in black and white terms? What place is left for the independent moderate thinker who looks at both sides and refuses to be branded wishy-washy by those who want to brand me in terms they can understand?

Certainly I’m aging, my body tells me so, but “old” or “young” is a frame of mind as is every other stereotype. I prefer to think of whether I still have a zest for life and for being spirited then what category I’m in. The push to segment me into this or that category may make life simpler for some people, but I think is killing the spirit of America. Because once you can put me into some little box that can be checked off, while useful for marketing purposes, is not very useful for understanding others and the way they think and feel being who they are. It kills off any useful discussion about what we really can do about the problems and possibilities of this country and our own personal lives.

So let’s stop the insanity of profiling ourselves and others and just get to know how we each actually experience our lives. Maybe we just might get to know each other and ourselves and give America a chance again.

Appeared in the Naperville Sun, Letters to the Editor, December 8, 2010