Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Looking Young

Yesterday I mentioned that I have been at the beginning of a conversation about conceptual boxes. Today, a perfect example of that fell into my lap.

As a little background...I have been working on editing a book for a client. It's about labour relations and I am the last man on the team, so I have some catching up to do. I've been working since sometime in January and have managed to do a content and copy edit on the manuscript (it's 1000+ pages, so this is no small feat). I am working on the proofreading now, but this is the pre-publication proofreading and there will be one more bash at that when the print copy happens.

Today I met with the project manager (I was hired by the author) and we discussed strategy.

The first thing that happened when I arrived was she looked at me and said, "My, you are young!"

(My husband is incensed and called her unprofessional. He does have a point.)

I laughed, because I didn't know how to take it. And this is not the first time someone has told me that. I told her that I was not as young as she probably thought. She wanted to know what I "do". (The answer to that is nothing. I barely moisturize. I got some great genes.)

However, it goes back to that idea I have been chewing on: conceptual boxes. Someone looks at me and assumes I am young. The underlying assumption about being young is that I am also inexperienced. She didn't ask me about my experiences, my education, or any other qualifications. She also assumed that because I am editing this project that I might not be able to write (she asked and I actually laughed out loud, because 80% of my work experience has involved writing). There were a lot of assumptions.

I wish that I could say I rarely bump into that, but the truth is that it is everywhere. I've had people assume I don't have an education, that I married young, and that I am a typical stay at home mom (whatever that means, because even the women I know who do that are far from typical). Part of me takes a perverse pleasure in them being wrong.

What would happen if we stopped assuming things by looking at people? What if we asked questions? What if we were more honest about ourselves and about what we do?

I suddenly have a vision of the first year or so of university, where the typical questions were "What is your major?" and "Where do you come from?" (I never could answer the second one, because I was a military child.)

Perhaps these boxes are useful in some way. A way of cutting through to people and things we are interested in? I find them annoying though. I like that life is complicated and messy. That there is so little about the human condition that is easily defined. I like poking around, asking questions, and learning. Maybe these assumptions allow people to dodge away from those activities? Maybe this is an armour against the work of really finding out about others?

Do I have assumptions? Absolutely! I suspect that the difference is that when I find mine, I don't hide behind them. I ask myself why, where they came from, how they serve me. The next time you stumble upon one of your own assumptions, see if you can recognize it, name it, and figure out how it came to be.

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