People Aren’t Labels…

Very few movies will get me to stop on the TV station airing them. I have Netflix on my Wii and can always go there for the uncensored version with no commercials. But “The Breakfast Club” is definitely one of those. The film is about five high school kids that have had some kind of action or behavior outburst that has caused them to get ‘Saturday Detention’. To make it more interesting, each of the students is a different social archetype within the population of what was 1980s American high school. And before anyone asks, I was a cross between the characters of John Bender and Allison Reynolds with a pinch of Andrew Clark….the ‘criminal’, the ‘basketcase’, and the ‘athlete’.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where the kids are all sitting in an upstairs section of the library, talking about why they are there in detention, and how they won’t be ‘friends’ come Monday morning. Its Rule-bookthis scene where the kids act on their stereotypes – belittling one another, until they have stripped everything away. Then Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez) makes the comment – “My God. Are we going to be like our parents?” At the moment in the movie, I can remember having similar conversations when I was in high school.

I did not go to a ‘typical’ high school. The first two years of high school were spent in a co-ed Catholic high school. I was an unremarkable student, with few friends. After my sophomore year, my father retired from the United States Air Force, and we moved to Shreveport, Louisiana. My last two years of high school were also spent in a Catholic high school, but this one was an all-boys school. Where I did not have to worry about a school uniform at my previous school, here I had one. During the winter months, we wore a coat and tie. During the Summer/Spring months, we wore the same blue polo-style shirt with the school’s logo on the front of the right shoulder. With both sets of uniforms, we wore the same grey slacks, and could not wear tennis shoes. Since I had come from Alabama to Louisiana, I was missing certain requirements for graduation and had a hybrid schedule. My schedule was seven classes across the course of the day. Two of my classes were with Freshman students (language and science), and a third class had me entrenched with Sophomores for math. being the upper class-man in those classes, very few of the under class-man wanted much to do with me. In my other classes, where I was part of my normal cohort of students, I was shunned because I was placed in those lower classes for part of the day. Most of the friends I made went to other public schools in the Shreveport/Bossier City area. And most of those friends were part of the drama group or were social outcasts in their schools as well.

We all talked about the social cliques that developed in our respective schools. Public high school, private high school – there wasn’t much difference. If you became labeled one particular way, the stigma of that label placed certain types of pressures on you. The brainiacs all had academic pressures from their parents, as one example. We also talked about how we didn’t like the clique system with the stereotypes and labels…and vowed to one another that we would never be that way when we left high school.

I left high school and went to college. I had no clue what I was going to do. I had no idea what I wanted to be. I knew I did not have the brains to be the Pathologist that my father was. Besides that, blood always makes me somewhat queasy. I knew I liked computers, but was not particularly at ease with the mathematics side of things. So I choose “General Studies” – hoping that I could figure it out as I went along. I was the same student in college that I was in high school. That is to say, I was bad. My study habits were completely non-existent. And after two years, I had no financial support to continue in school. Socially, I was even more awkward in college than I was in high school. I was considered to be a social outcast there as well. And I found that the stereotypes and labels not only persisted in college, but were amplified. Instead of the taunts and insults being quietly stated in the hallways, they were spoken out loud, with no possibility of repercussions from the faculty. We were expected to act like adults in the hallways – and the only way that the faculty would intervene was if things wound up being physical. Sadly, I started to see that this was the possible way of the outside world. So I figured that a world like the military would be a safe haven.

The United States Air Force was interesting. During Basic Training, we were stripped of personality and individuality. We were all treated exactly the same. Failures were punished across the board. Success was celebrated across the board. We were treated as a single individual of fifty people. What one did reflected on all the others equally. When I reached technical training school, we were allowed some measure of individuality. My completely red, high-top tennis shoes were my way of standing out as an individual. It didn’t take long before the little social cliques developed. Once again, I was labeled and explained through a stereotype. When I reported to my first duty station, it was exactly the same.

Going back to the statement from Andrew Clark in the movie, I wasn’t destined to be like my parents. They were extremely social people. They were well liked by other people. A quintessential example of a normal American couple. My sister has followed in their footsteps throughout her life. She is well accepted in social circles in the city she lives in. Her lawyer/politician husband has opened doors to social environments that would see me as a criminal element, simply because of the length of my hair. There’s no danger in me becoming like my parents. I am very, very different from them in many regards.

But I have had a lot of time to think about how different my life would have been, if I had simply followed my mother’s stern attempts at guiding my Path. My life would be far different from where I am now. Perhaps, I would have gained the three degrees I now have (2004 Bachelors degree, 2006 Masters of Information Sciences, 2012 MBA) much sooner. Perhaps, I would have obtained different degrees. Perhaps, I would have remained in the Catholic faith. Perhaps. A lot of that may have gained me some other label, and may have placed me in some other social stereotype over my lifetime. Perhaps. But that did not happen.

In looking back, I recall a television show that has had a huge impression on me – Babylon 5. In a particular scene, Dr. Steven Franklin has come back from a period of absence – a walkabout – where he was trying to piece together who he was and what was important in his life. I have heard this process referred to as “diving deep into the soul and seeing where you eventually emerge.” Its a process I have done a few times in my life, particularly when I feel like I cannot see the Path under my feet.

I realize that I always defined myself in terms of what I wasn’t. I wasn’t a good soldier like my father. I wasn’t the job. I wasn’t a good prospect for marriage or kids. Always what I wasn’t, never what I was. And when you do that, you miss the moments. And the moments are all we’ve got. When I thought I was going to die, even after everything that’s happened, I realized I didn’t want to let go. I was willing to do it all over again, and this time I could appreciate the moments. I can’t go back, but I can appreciate what I have right now. And I can define myself by what I am instead of what I’m not. -Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5, ‘Shadow Dancing’

I cannot define myself by someone else’s definitions or stereotypes. I am me. I am not my parents, nor could I ever be. Some of my personal habits derive from my parents and my living under their roof. But my expectations for Life are far different from theirs. As it should be. I am me. I cannot be anyone else. I have heard people say that you cannot get away from labels and stereotypes. I suppose that is true, if you choose to play the game of Life under the rules that others generate. But I sincerely reject that notion. In stereotyping and labeling people – including myself – I take away the one that makes people far more interesting: their individuality. Just because some guy grows his hair long, wears a beard halfway down his chest, always wears biker leathers and torn-up jeans – that does not make him into some guy that wants to drink beer all the time, pick fights all the time, and ride his bike down the street looking to challenge the local law enforcement. In fact, he may be someone that enjoys quiet times at home, drinking chamomile tea, reading Philosophy books, while sitting on the couch petting his rescue tabby cat. If I choose to stereotype him, and dismiss him as just that – I may miss the chance to talk with that tea-sipping Philosophy guy. And I may miss the chance to befriend someone that will not only enrich my life with a much different perspective, but could also be enriched by my friendship with him. I would never know until I ditch the “rules” and play the game my own way.

So, here’s your dice, here’s your rule book…be glad I didn’t melt the dice down, burn the rule book, and jams the result up your ass. I am not playing the damn label game. Take your damn stereotypes and jam ’em where the sun won’t shine. I will take people one at a time….individually. Regardless of what they wear, how they act, where they work or what they believe. As Depeche Mode state:

People are people. -Depeche Mode, “People are People”, from the album “Some Great Reward (1984)

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