Karolyn Sherwood, Author

Don’t Be A Pigeon

Life moves fast. If a person is driving sixty miles an hour and sees something out of the corner of his eye, he must decide right now if he should react or stay his course. While walking down a street at night, a woman must decide if the man walking toward her is friend or foe. With television, computer, and cell phone images flashing before our eyes, then changing again and again every few seconds, humans must make nearly instantaneous judgements and decisions every single day. These are important traits, like the fight or flight instinct bred into us thousands of years ago.

Today, that instinct will more likely be used to size up a potential mate we spot on the subway than to watch for a snake in the grass. (Yes, the jokes abound, but let’s try to keep our focus here, shall we?)

According to Linda Blair, clinical psychologist and author of Straight Talking, it takes only seven seconds for us to judge another person when we first meet them. And after that, according to me, people tend to lump others into categories just as quickly. “She’s an artsy-fartsy type.” or “He’s a suit.” The labels go on and on: hipster; geek; gay; Republican; soccer mom … But who among us is one dimensional?

I once knew a man who loved his wife as long as she behaved the way he wanted her to. Her actions were supposed to stay inside the Pigeon Hole he had labeled: WIFE. She eventually flew the coop. And, not being a homing pigeon, she never went back. Other people use the same labeling system. They have a wall full of boxes labeled SON, DAUGHTER, FRIEND, BROTHER, EMPLOYEE … “If you fit inside this box, you can be my son/daughter/friend/brother/employee.”

But that’s not love. True love cannot be crammed inside a box. If you love someone, you need to allow—even encourage—them to grow from the caterpillar you meet to the butterfly they are destined to become. It doesn’t matter how old that person is, no one should remain stagnant. Imagine if you hadn’t changed your beliefs one iota from the day you turned 21. Same hairstyle, same career, same political and religious beliefs. HELP! How horrible would that be? Love allows people to grow and change. Even politicians must change, and fortunately, many of them have. It’s the ones who haven’t ever varied on any decision who scare me the most. (cough, John McCain)

Tying this back to literature and the world of writing, I know that publishers like an author to limit themselves to one category. They must protect their advertising budgets and bottom line. But even that industry seems to be changing, if slowly. J.K. Rowling and John Grisham come instantly to mind. This, too, is a good thing, I believe.

But back to real life.

I have spoken to three people in the past week who’ve been frustrated by others’ expectations and judgements. I said to my friends, “Relax. Be true to yourself. You cannot live your life to keep other people happy. If your friends and family don’t love you for who you are, they’ll have to learn how to deal with it.” And usually, they will. Or sometimes, people move on. Even familial relationships change over time. In a world where we’re encouraged to “think outside the box” and “color outside the lines,” how can people stay so rigid so as not to allow others to be true to themselves? I think the answer is based in FEAR, fear of change. I get that, really I do, but from my experience, that fear usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, since I’m not a psychologist and I can’t charge you for this wisdom, I think I’ll just print up some t-shirts. On the front they will say: I’M NOT A PIGEON. On the back they will say: AND NEITHER ARE YOU.

What do you say? Would you buy one of my t-shirts?

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