Categorising People Lessens Us All

And perhaps that’s the point. After all, if you keep telling people, that they will never amount to much, the likelihood is that, eventually, they will believe you. This is especially so of children who, should anyone need reminding, are just those most in need of nurturing. For those who have had a problematic childhood, this can lead to problems stretching well into the future which can either be ignored or dealt with. In my own case, the trauma that was involved led to a transient and disjointed life which is, only now, being resolved. The results, I have to say, have been life changing. So much so that even I am starting to believe in me. Steady on, old chap!

So, for those of you who don’t know, my life has involved early bereavement, being fostered, signed into the army at 15, being married, raising two children, leaving the army, working in architectural practice, being divorced, a single parent, student, community activist, barman, cleaner, pizza chef, unemployed, a Charity Director, sacked, marrying again and having a second family, setting up my own business and becoming an author, public speaker and still working despite my age. Along the way, I’ve had bouts of depression and a breakdown. Yet in each of these incarnations, I was still me.

What is quite funny, though, is that many of those who knew me actually did see more than I did. Unfortunately others, usually those who didn’t know me too well, just saw the particular incarnation that I was at the time. Certainly, when I was in the army, I was seen as a squaddie with all the connotations that that particular categorisation includes. Working in a pub, I was seen as a barman, as a Charity Director, I was certainly seen as such and, when I stand up to speak, there can be no misunderstanding. Yet when I was unemployed, was I a scrounger? I think not. Interestingly, I received positive comments as a male single parent when most of my, female, compatriots received negative ones. So, can we be categorised as shirkers or strivers, hard working and aspirational or lazy and feckless? I think not. Most of us can be one or other of these at various times in our lives.

So, the next time you see someone on the streets who happens to be homeless, please don’t ignore them. They may also be a former soldier who fought for his or her country and who has mental health problems. The point is that you don’t know why they are in that situation and, if you don’t know, how can you judge?

So, in these austere time when politicians use categorisation as a political tool, don’t follow their lead and try to see the real person underneath. Oh, and don’t just ignore them. That probably hurts more than anything else. After all, do you want them to categorise you as “uncaring”?

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