I’ve recently noticed our seemingly innate inclination to categorize.  Maybe it’s a vestigial survival tactic overlooked by evolution, or maybe it is still necessary for our survival.  Not quite sure.  Regardless, humans seem to have a need to put things, both tangible and abstract, in their proper place.  One prime example of this is the ubiquitous question, “Is the glass half-empty or half-full?” almost solely for the purpose of categorization.

Photo from A Stack of Books and a Cup of Tea

We ask people this question in an effort to categorize them into optimists and pessimists.  It feels good after they’ve answered, because then we can place them into one of these categories cleanly, helping to define them and their personality.  I realized this only yesterday, in the midst of a conversation with a friend who inspires me to think differently.  I can’t, for the life of me, remember why he said it, though.

Anyway, I responded, in so many words, “Why does the glass have to be half-empty or half-full?  Can’t it just be a half-a-glass?”

And that boarded me on this roller coaster of thought on which I realized that we ceaselessly categorize and rarely allow things to the simple benefit of existence.

Why do we need to be optimists or pessimists?
Why do we limit ourselves to a finite number of perspectives?
Why do we find the need to quantify and explain everything?

I constantly do this. I want things–everything–to be put in their place. I want to be able to put a label on feelings, people, or even the little boxes and bins in my classroom.  Yes, in some cases, it makes things easier to find, but in many cases it confines and confuses us more.

Maybe it is sometimes better to simply look at and accept the half-glass, instead of defining or categorizing it.  By defining and categorizing, we often put pressure on ourselves to take action, because once we’ve defined something, surely, in this day and age, there is a way to fix it–and we seek out that way.

So, I suppose, before I answer the question, “Is the glass half-empty or half-full?” I will have to ask myself the question: What will defining or categorizing this situation do to actually help me?

Chances are, it will do much less than just accepting the “glass” at face-value.

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