Logical Gal asks if we are blind in our categories

11 Nov

Everything we encounter, whether a new idea, a circumstance or a person,

we attempt to categorize.  

We are particularly good and shallow at this game when we are making the rounds at a party or other social event. Ubiquitous questions such as:

  • What do YOU do?
  • Do you have kids?
  • What do you pursue in your free time?

We search for clues in order to categorize, to supply context to a person or to look for connections between them and us.  We want to know what we have in common.

What we don’t think through…… is that we are limited by the nature of our category, by what defines the members within the category.

Like the fish who is unaware of water because it’s all around, maybe we are equally oblivious to categories as yet identified.

I thought about this the other night while listening to a theologian explain how unusual the Jewish concept of Monotheism was.  The Jews developed into a people group amidst the backdrop of Polytheism.  I never considered how revolutionary this form of worship and culture must have been.  Here was a new category – to have ONE SINGLE god who was the TRUE god.  And He was a new kind of god – one who didn’t just show up physically as a burning bush or a pillar of smoke, but He was equally an immaterial god – a spiritual god.

The Jews descended from one man – Abraham. He and Sarah were initially polytheistic like everyone else in their region and era. They had no concept, no category for a monotheistic God.   I am amazed that they trusted Abraham’s encounter with this living God ENOUGH to leave civilization and journey away from their known life in the city of Ur to something and somewhere as yet disclosed or described.

My point is this – we ought to exercise a little more humility.  We might know every member of a category and feel confident in our ability to sort, to exercise triage as we encounter people, circumstances and ideas.  But what if what we meet belongs in an entirely different category, one about which we have no clue?

The question then becomes, how do we know what we don’t know?

I’m not sure if I have an answer or a way forward, but….

what I am beginning to REMEMBER to practice is to ask myself the question,

“as opposed to what?”

Applying this technique to Abraham’s contemporary  pagan culture, a 2000 BC sheep-farmer could  have pondered:

  • I have many gods – of weather, fertility, crops, safety….what other kind of god could there be? What would be totally different than a god to meet each of my needs?

Applying this technique in MY culture as a French teacher, I might ask:

  • What is a completely out-of-the box way to teach a foreign language?

Maybe the question itself is enough to eliminate some of my blindness.

Certainly worth a try!

One Response to “Logical Gal asks if we are blind in our categories”

  1. lily November 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm #


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