“The end always passes judgment on what has gone before.” — Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer of maxims
The variety show had been a lot of fun. Junior and senior high school students had performed an interesting and entertaining evening of songs, skits, readings and even a dance number or two. I had been in one of the skits — a Twilight Zone inspired tale I’d written about two lost boys and a werewolf — a twist on Little Red Riding Hood. It had met with only moderate applause. Mother had told me my choice of material was a bit too “deep” for my audience.
The emcee appeared on stage from between the heavy brown stage curtains.
“Tonight’s final performance is a bit of a surprise,” he began. “It features a trio of singing. . . .” He paused for a moment. “Well, maybe it’s best that I just introduce them. I think you’re all going to be pleasantly surprised. Ladies and gentlemen, The Three Teachers.”
We all applauded but I stopped mid-clap when The Three Teachers walked onto the stage. One had a guitar slung over his shoulder, another was carrying a stool and all three were dressed in dark slacks and ivory-coloured cardigans. The Three Teachers were indeed three teachers: Mr. B, the science teacher, Mr. W, the phys-ed teacher and Mr. T, the English teacher.
“I’m sure you’re not used to seeing us like this,” began Mr. T. “But we’re really just like you. When we’re not at work, we like to spend time with family and friends. When the three of us get together, we like to sing.” Mr. T sat down on the stool with the guitar. Mr. B and Mr. W took positions on either side.
I looked around the auditorium. I wasn’t the only with my mouth open. I couldn’t imagine these three teachers singing, let alone being anything like the rest of us. For one thing, all had all moved here from England in what came to be known as the English invasion. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s many schools in Alberta were short-staffed. Teachers from England came to fill the positions, bringing with them an English style of teaching and an unpleasantly stern approach to discipline.
It can be difficult to see people in roles other than the ones we have come to expect. It can be difficult (and I’m sure you’ve experienced this too) seeing someone after a number of years and finding them to be completely different from your own recollection.
There are people who still think of me as the painfully shy kid I was growing up. They meet me today and seem flabbergasted to learn that I am a writer, speaker, workshop facilitator and therapist. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience when someone has surprised you or you have surprised someone else. It can be difficult to reconcile two contrary beliefs about one individual.
Part of the issue comes from the way our conscious mind is wired. Our conscious mind is programmed to judge and label people, places, things and events. This process works exceptionally well and allows us to move through the world in a fluid manner. That is to say, our conscious mind will “pigeon-hole” information so we don’t need to move through an entirely new assessment process each time it encounters the same or similar situation: fire is hot, ice is cold and gravity affects us all. The only problem is we seldom go back and reassess anything that we have placed in the pigeon-hole. Developing healthy self-esteem and reaching a state of self-awareness requires that we pull our determinations from the past and reexamine them in the bright light of day and with a fresh set of eyes.
Results can be startling and enlightening.
We have all pigeon-holed people we’ve met, events we’ve witnessed and stories we’ve heard. And we don’t just do it on a personal level. Entire countries, races and belief systems have been thrust into pigeon-holes.
Such determinations can and have led to intolerance and prejudicial views. Open a history book and you’ll find countless examples of this process at work.
When we bring awareness to our tendency to pigeon-hole, we can stop and reconsider our judgments. That, of course, takes courage.
Imagine the possibilities that exist beyond what we currently consider to be true. And what about opinions we hold of ourselves? What beliefs have been formed or conclusions drawn that no longer apply? With a bit of scrutiny, we may discover many of our self-limiting beliefs no longer apply or never did in the first place.
Mr. W began strumming the guitar and the trio launched into Four Strong Winds. People applauded. The harmonies were impressive. The Three Teachers performed a wonderful assortment of folk songs — a small town version of The Kingston Trio. In all, the teachers sang five songs ending the performance with a rousing rendition The Black Velvet Band. Everyone applauded – including me. That night taught me something about pigeon-holing people based upon initial impressions or contact with them in only one aspect — in my case, teacher and student.
I recently found an interesting and accurate definition of pigeonholing: an all-encompassing category which usually fails to reflect actual complexities of the person, place or event.
When we begin to see the world with beginner’s eyes (that is to say, when the blinders of preconception have been removed) we often discover a radical difference between what we have held as true and current reality. Challenge yourself to reach deep into the pigeon-holes you have created and pull out a conclusion or two. Start with small, seemingly inconsequential beliefs, if you like. You just may be surprised by what you learn about yourself.
“Never tell me the sky’s the limit when I know there are footprints on the moon.”
Murray M. Fuhrer — The Self-Esteem Guy. www.theselfesteemguy.com