One of the presenters yesterday gave a talk about the psychology of prejudice and, in the process, he mentioned that he had come to the “who are you and why are you here” session on Sunday evening and made some interesting observations.
Whether we realize it or not, he told us, we are always putting things in categories – ourselves and others included. “Each of you,” he said while standing in front of a projection of categories (gender, ethnicity, profession, religion, etc.) “put yourself into a few of these categories. You didn’t so much touch on your marital status or sexual identities, but you made a point of telling us where you’re from and what you do in relation to why you’re here.” Of course, that was the point of the exercise – the professor wasn’t making any judgment – but I think his point was that this is something we do almost effortlessly, and that it’s the ease of this process that can be at the root of human atrocities.
The thing is, though, I DIDN’T put myself in categories. I stood up and essentially said that I have to be here – I feel obligated to be here – because my life is informed by questions of social justice and empathy and compassion. I feel a responsibility as a human being to learn about this topic, and to pass along what I know to others in whatever capacity I might be acting.
After the session was over, I went to the professor and asked him about that. “Oh, yes,” he said, “I remember you; you were the only one who didn’t box yourself in. As a matter of fact, Paul had to ask you where and who you teach.” He didn’t really have a response as to what that might indicate. *I* think that I did it in an effort to not do the cookie-cutter “I work here and I do this and I want to learn that” stock answers, but I also did it because I don’t think that those things matter much.
Anyway, the day was positively insane. Up at 5:30, breakfast at 7 (we got up too early; we overestimated how long it would take us all to cycle through the shower), then workshops straight through lunch – only 10 minute breaks in between. A 30 minute lunch, then back to workshops. We had a speaker through dinner, then another workshop in the evening, then STRAIGHT TO BED. It takes me a while to actually sleep in strange places, so I figure it’ll be about Wednesday before I feel like I’m caught up on my sleep deficit. More later!