We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seeded refusal of that which others have made of us.
Jean Paul Sartre
I had a freshman English teacher in college, I shan't name him, who was in many ways the epitome of Bob Newhart's "buttoned down mind." He rarely smiled, seemed to have no sense of humor, had us reading boring novels by obscure authors and deferred embarrassingly to his favorites in the class. I tried my best to respect that man. He was the teacher assigned to our class and therefore deserved my attention and as much honor as I could give him, which wasn't much.
The biggest problem I had with him was his habit of easily categorizing all of his students. If he made up his mind that one was brilliant then he would praise everything that one said, even if it was ignorant. If he decided that one was stupid then nothing that one said would receive any respect.
But it was even worse when he got to labeling us and putting us in neat little philosophical boxes: this one was an idealist, that one was a pragmatist, the other one was an empiricist, the one over there was a liberal, the one in front a conservative, and so on. And we were expected henceforth to follow whatever ethical, intellectual line we were assigned by him. It was as if he felt obliged to describe ourselves to us in simple, clearly defined terms, like photographs hanging on a wall, and to declare his findings loudly to the class.
I finally locked horns with him one day when I turned in a paper on the subject of opera. I was a music major. He was a music lover, or so he said. I made certain statements in the paper with which he disagreed. It didn't matter to him that I had plenty of research to explain my statements, and he wasn't going to concern himself with the quality of my writing, he just set out to tell me I was wrong because he considered himself a better musicologist than I. In the process he missed the whole theme of my paper. He had made up his mind early on that I was of substandard intelligence and that therefore I couldn't do well at any writing project. But that I happened to step on the sensitive toe of his belief in himself as a superior scholar of opera, just made matters worse. I classified him as a jerk.
It would have been impossible, I think, for the two of us to ever become friends, but now, older and with more experience in my bag, I can admit that there was probably more to the man than just "jerk" and I hope that he is considering that there is more to other people than he wants to find.
It is vitally important to our emotional survival that we kick down the sides of the box that others want to tuck us into and claim a rangy and complex individuality for ourselves. There is more to every human being than meets the opinion of others. And it is equally important that we don't prepare a box for anyone else.
No one has authority over another person's identity.
Saturday night is a lonely time.