The Boxes We Put Each Other In

92F5FE4B-709F-4D90-9E0C-2F85101CC995Before you read my blog or essay read this blog first.

My manager on finding I wasn’t a Trump supporter said to me, “I was sure you were a Trump supporter.”

Later my manager calls me up and tells me he doesn’t want me to think he is a bigoted Trump supporter, spending an hour trying to convince me with data, saying he has researched Trump thoroughly and believes everything he does has been well thought out, countering everything I offered, such as examples from the Woodward book about Trump. But what is interesting he pigeonholed me as a Trump supporter until he found I wasn’t, at which point he pigeonholed me as someone who believed he himself(my manager) was a bigoted white Southern male believing in Trump for no good reason. And might I add I never said anything to him politically at all.

We like to put each other in a box with a label attached to it. It is hard to think someone might inhabit a grey area or imagine there are gradations between black and white. Better yet let’s take the labels attached to us and transcend them, which was what another blogger VN has done with the labels introvert and extrovert. He took the “bull by the horns” and found an alternative. I remember taking a logic class in school where when you don’t accept the either/or choices you take the bull by the horns and find an alternative, at least that’s the way I remember it. But not only did VN take the “bull by the horns” he transcended it.

He took two terms – introvert and extrovert – and annihilated them, showing their meaninglessness- at least that is what I think he showed. I might be adding something here but if I am following his line of reasoning I would make a new term, say exinvert (or inexvert) and either you are a low exinvert or a high exinvert (depending on skills and understanding). As VN said, “What is present is not some fundamental aspect of the character, but the absence of a skill,” and “It is a question of one’s skills and the understandings reached!” So a high exinvert would have more skills than a low exinvert. Anyway if you haven’t read his blog on introvert and extrovert go here . There are wonderful examples on his blog to demonstrate his point.

I have been struggling with why people I know cannot understand how I cannot fully accept wholly one position or another- as either fully Trump or not Trump. When I did a religious study project I ran into the same thing. Everybody was trying to convert me and either I subscribe to their whole list of doctrines or I don’t. Either you are fully with us or your not. Is it possible maybe they have one doctrine amiss. Well, not in their mind. I recently debated a Calvinist to find myself debating myself. Since he didn’t have a good answer for my point, I supplied one. Then I debated the point I supplied him until I found myself debating myself. A surreal experience. Needless to say he has branded me a non-Calvinist, even though I concede some of his points have validity, and so I have been pigeonholed again.

So it was refreshing, and really made my day, when VN a blogger at Adventures took two terms – extrovert and introvert and “blew them out of the water.”

7 thoughts on “The Boxes We Put Each Other In

  1. Hi, thanks! First a minor point. In the professional literature, the terms may be more carefully defined, and may have some (useful) meaning. I haven’t checked the psychology literature, for I’m not interested enough in it. I am sure, though, that as used in the popular understanding, the terms are not useful.

    About boxing people, it is a way to cope with the complexity of the world. (Biases and preconceived notions derived from one’s race, sex, etc fall in this class too.) In itself, it is not that bad, for these biases are often out of good observations, and we’ve found that the preconceived notions “click” with the new person.

    What I do is to try to give the person “a fair hearing”. I start from the preconceived notions, but I consciously keep them in mind, and I am ready to drop them easily.


  2. We agree more than we disagree on the topic.

    I said, “I haven’t checked the psychology literature, for I’m not interested enough in it.” But I am obviously interested enough in the topic! What I’m not interested in is reading other’s classifications! I’d rather create all my “boxes” myself — out of my own observations, where I know exactly how strong or weak the classifications are, and where to be careful and where to be not-so-careful.

    Or if my above comments are already too muddy, to present my point-of-view anew:

    I do have classifications, and they are probably useful to “get a grip” on the observed world. But, I don’t hold them strongly. I can easily ignore them whenever my observations of a “particular case” contradict them. (At least, that is how I ideally am! Ideally, we would always have a child’s sense of wonder and curiosity about everything new!)

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  3. “I’d rather create all my “boxes” myself — out of my own observations, where I know exactly how strong or weak the classifications are, and where to be careful and where to be not-so-careful.”

    To be honest I do create internal judgments about people I know – boxes . I even predict what they will do based on those judgments, in fact it is sort of a favorite pastime with my wife and I. We are pretty accurate with our predictions.

    “What I do is to try to give the person “a fair hearing”. I start from the preconceived notions, but I consciously keep them in mind, and I am ready to drop them easily.”

    I try to not have a preconceived notions to start with, even though it is quite tempting to do so. I think this is why at some jobs I have been “well liked.” I think people feel I am accepting them just as they are, and I am. But after that I have to make judgments because I have to decide how much time I want to spend with certain people and how much I want to divulge to them. And yes I am willing to “drop them easily”, the judgments that are not favorable.

    At the present job people notice I spend time with some and no time with others because I have made judgments about them. I would never turn away anyone wanting to talk and discuss stuff but some people I have come to the judgment I cannot benefit them or them me. So I guess we all have our boxes.


  4. What you said sounds reasonable, so I’ve got to present my point of view afresh!

    I am generally “well liked” too. And I don’t actually judge people on the basis of my biases. The biases are merely guides, the extract out of experiences which serve as railings on which I can lean. In any particular case, I’d rather have a lot of data to make a judgement. But, you know, the data is often missing!

    E.g., say you have to decide whether you can trust someone. Ideally, I’d want to decide this on the basis of wholly my observations on this particular person. But what if I don’t have a sufficient mass of observations? Then, I’d consult my biases. (E.g., given that people from a certain background are generally not trustworthy, in this case, for the moment, I’m not going to trust the person.


  5. Your view afresh better defines what you are saying. Your use of phrases like “railings on which I can lean” , “sufficient mass of observations”, “extract out of experiences” make me have a clear picture of what you are saying. (I very much like your phrases!)

    Yes we never start with sufficient data to make a good judgment: “data is often missing.” I think I probably -even though I don’t want to admit it- apply the principles you are stating more often than I would like to admit.

    I work with a person who is also a pastor of a church. He recently started with our group. My bias towards him caused me to view him more favorably than was warranted, since I generally put pastors on a pedestal and look up to them. He turned out to do commerce in gossip to gain popularity, to have health habits that were questionable, to use ad hominem remarks in argument to gain control. My “railing” in this case gave way initially causing me to get bruised.

    Now maybe in my life if I have meet more pastors I would have come to a different conclusion and my railing would have held, but since I didn’t have enough data for my bias, my bias caused a bruising.

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  6. The post referred to above:

    For a long time, I classified myself an introvert. I later understood that the classification, Introversion vs Extraversion, at least in its popular understanding, does not model things well, and is not useful.

    It is not just that one is sometimes an introvert and sometimes an extravert. It is not even that one is introvert in the company of some people, and extravert with others. It is a question of one’s skills and the understandings reached!

    I’d first generalize my case.

    [Extraverts] take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. […] [Extraverts] are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves. [extract from the Wikipedia article]

    Doesn’t it suggest running away from oneself? (See a quote from Feuchtersleben below.) If that is how extravertion is, then it is clearly an inferior state of living. Do people who see themselves as extraverts see themselves as empty, and therefore uncomfortable with themselves?

    Introverts often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking, or fishing. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though they may enjoy interactions with close friends. […] They are more analytical before speaking. [same as the above link]

    Are many activities (like reading) not necessarily solitary? If introverts avoid crowds – well, all sensible people avoid crowds! And is man not a thinking animal?

    In other words, the above is useless.

    Let me now present my case.

    When I saw myself as an introvert, I was clueless about how to set and enforce my boundaries. With new people, I had a binary choice: Accept them as they are on their terms, or move away. (So, if one was very talkative, I’d rather have moved away – and with some distress.)

    Now I know how to negotiate. In parties (which introverts are said to not enjoy), I can easily talk with people, talk only what I wish to talk about, answer only what I wish to answer, and in short, set my terms – all of it politely. This is infinitely preferable, as most people understand and accept it, and thus I can easily interact with everyone. Does the mere acquisition of this skill make me an extravert? (I wonder. I move away from people I don’t find interesting, but that is a very sensible thing to do. And I still move away from crowds, but that too is a very sensible thing to do.)

    Introverts are said to periodically need solitude. But one can do without an exclusive (exclusive in physical space) solitude if people are very sensible. (E.g., I used to say to my mother that she can stay in the same room as me if she promises to not speak a word! She finds it very difficult to set such a boundary on herself.) So, people (and not introverts) of course need the space to think, to be unhappy, to process their feelings, etc — and physical solitude is only needed when the others don’t understand when to stand back.

    One of the most beautiful scenes of domestic life is from one of my favourite novels, Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand), where this is presented near the very end:

    The rectangle of light at the bottom of the valley was the window of Danneskjold’s home. Kay Ludlow sat before a mirror, thoughtfully studying the shades of film make-up, spread open in a battered case.

    Ragnar Danneskjold lay stretched on a couch, reading a volume of the works of Aristotle: “… for these truths hold good for everything that is, and not for some special genus apart from others. And all men use them, because they are true of being qua being. … For a principle which every one must have who understands anything that is, is not a hypothesis. … Evidently then such a principle is the most certain of all; which principle this is, let us proceed to say. It is, that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect …”

    The above, then, is mixing the attributes of the so-called introversion and extraversion! The above people can wholly attend to their own work (which requires concentration and absense of disturbance), but in the undergroud, there must be a melody which is there because the other person is there, – and engaged in his/her own business! – quite nearby!

    And to return to an original point for a moment: When the theories say that “introverts are happy to meet some known people, but not others”, they are saying, “introverts are happy with the people they have set boundaries with and have understandings, that they are comfortable with”. What is present is not some fundamental aspect of the character, but the absence of a skill.

    A quote from Feuchersleben:

    This is the sign through which the low and the higher [people] can be distinguished from each other: that the one finds his happiness only when he forgets himself – the other, when he comes back to himself, can deeply enjoy himself. The one, when he loses himself, the other, when he possesses himself.
    (–Ernst Freiherr von Feuchtersleben, Aphorismen; available on

    (German original: Das ist des Merkmal, durch welches der gemeine und der höhere von-einander unterschieden sind: dass jener sein Glück nur dann findet, wenn er sich selbst vergißt – dieser, wenn er zu selbst wiederkehrt, sein selbst innig genießen kann. Jener, wenn er sich verliert, dieser, wenn er sich besitzt.)

    Wikipedia link on extraversion and introversion.


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