Boundaries That Limit Our Lives
Human society has constructed countless boundaries that artificially confine us and bar us from achieving our full potential. They shove us into pigeonholes and make us try to conform to stereotypes that do not fit us. Fortunately, many of the most limiting ones can be transcended with knowledge, courage, and an open mind. Here is a brief overview of five of these: boundaries of gender, race, religion, class, and sexual orientation.
GENDER used to be seen as pretty simple. We were either male or female, as determined by our anatomy and chromosomes. And our gender dictated our roles in life: how we were supposed to act, how we were expected to dress and wear our hair, what our occupations should be, how we were supposed to relate to other people, and almost every other aspect of our lives. But not everyone could live within all those boundaries. The modern understanding of gender is quite different. It is now seen as whichever gender someone personally identifies with, rather than being determined by the biological sex assigned to him or her at birth. And whatever one’s gender, its importance in determining one’s role in society is being challenged. But such fundamental social change is slow, and resistance is strong.
RACE is a little like gender. The concept starts with the fact of various physical differences among people that lead us to think of them as separate groups. But society has extended those actual differences to create a whole web of characteristics and expectations that have no necessary connection with the actual physical differences. As a result, we make assumptions about each other and treat each other according to racial stereotypes rather
than as individuals. We separate ourselves with boundaries that limit us as individuals and as a society.
RELIGION brings out both the best and the worst sides of human beings. It can inspire us to love, respect, and care for one another, but also to hate, persecute, and wage war. It should bring us together in our common quest for spiritual growth, but all too often it creates boundaries that keep us apart. We divide ourselves into separate groups, each of which claims to have the true religion, while the real truth is that we are all following different paths to the same destination.
CLASS creates boundaries that can be either official or unofficial. In some countries, it is determined by ancestry and expressed by titles. In America we have been told that we have a classless society, but that is a patriotic myth. The reality is that we have classes based on money, education, and occupation, and that those things are often passed down from generation to generation. In spite of some social mobility, most of us live our lives separated by class.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION is one of the most controversial of all social issues. Traditionally, men are supposed to be attracted to women and women to men, period. Crossing that boundary has brought discrimination, violence, and even denial of basic legal rights. There have been dramatic recent changes in both laws and attitudes in the United States and a few other countries, but in much of the world oppression is still the norm. And even here discrimination continues in many ways, and the struggle for true equality is far from over.