I don’t look good in hats. There’s something about the shape or size of my head, or maybe the structure of my brow or ears or whatever that makes hats look funny on me (and makes me look funny in them).
A few years ago, however, I was given some homemade knit hats by a gal named Robyn Devine. I’d worn knit hats before, and they’d all had the same weird relationship with my head as fedoras, toques, and bowlers. These ones, however, looked pretty dang good.
I was shocked, but pleasantly so. Hats I could wear! A whole world seemed to open up to me. I thought: If these hats look good, there could be more out there that would also look good. It was a revelation.
It’s human nature to want to put things in boxes, neatly labeled and compartmentalized for later use. This categorization of the world gives us a shorthand to use in future decision-making, greatly reducing the amount of processing power we exert to function in the complex world in which we live.
It can also, unfortunately, close the door on options and opportunities we would otherwise have. A decision made too soon, or a label placed on a box that is too broad in scope can impact someone for the rest of their life. I had decided hats were out of the question for me, and would have continued to think as much, had Robyn not come along and offered me a few. Who knows how many hats I would have missed out on over the span of my lifetime if not for her overture?
On a larger scale (and one arguably more important than my head accessories), there are people who decide (or are told) from a young age that some races or cultures are a certain way. Or maybe other genders, or countries, or operating systems, or political parties, or units of measurement, or scientific theories, or media, or foods. Such people are closed off from those outsider people or things forever. Everything their pre-labeled people or things do are filtered through an unflattering — and distorted — lens.
There’s nothing wrong with sorting the world — it’s what allows us to function — but it’s important to make sure the labels we adhere are as small and specific as possible so we don’t accidentally lump an entire subsection of the world (say, hats) into what should be a very specific rule (say, fedoras and my head not getting along).
We should also write the labels in pencil, not pen. If we don’t leave such things open for revisitation and reinterpretation later in life, we’re deciding early on to never learn anything new, change our opinions, or acquire new tastes. Pouring quick-drying, concrete opinions is one of the crueler thing you can do to yourself if you want to live a happy and full life.
This piece was originally published in Exiles, a twice-monthly subscription-based dispatch I’ve been writing since 2011.