One of the primary ways I settle for enhancing my container rather than exploring its contents is by clinging to demographics. Here’s what I mean. Demographics are the labels I use to identify myself and others. “I’m male, middle-aged, white, Christian, American, parent, spouse, psychologist, left-handed,” you get the idea. It’s mental shorthand. I don’t have to start from scratch when I meet someone if I have the observable demographics and my mental assumptions about those demographics to work with.

demographicsThink of the assumptions we make automatically when we observe or hear one bit of information about someone: liberal, conservative, Texan, female, Muslim, wealthy, gay, or any of a hundred words that we load up with meaning. With little or no context of the actual person, I can jump to all kinds of conclusions about who this person is and what they are like. Sadly, my conclusions may have no basis in reality, but once made, those conclusions may persist despite all kinds of new information.

The lectionary for Protestant churches today suggests a story of an encounter between Jesus and a woman from Samaria. This was an unthinkable encounter at the time.

Jews were supposed to have NO contact with Samaritans. Samaritans were considered “unclean” and therefore hated. Now here’s Jesus not only interacting with this woman, but initiating and maintaining the contact.

Lots could be said, and undoubtedly will be said in churches today, about this interaction, but for me, in the context of what I have been thinking and writing for the past few days, this has everything to do with container vs. content.

Jesus did not get fixated on the container. This woman had all the demographics of someone to be avoided at all costs, but those are container issues, not the content of who she was a person. Jesus went for content. He asked about her history and discovered it was a confusing and conflicting history, like most of us. He then focused on what she had learned from that history, and what she could learn from it. That’s content!

Too often I focus on the privilege of my demographics or the limitations of my history. Both are decisions to remain stuck with container issues, with a simplistic surface understanding of who I am and who you are. We will never emerge from the confines of our demographics and history, nor will we deeply connect with each other until we are willing to look beyond the container, the public image, the demographics, and peer courageously into ourselves and each other to see more.

Alcoholics Anonymous call this a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves” followed by “admitting to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

For me, those wrongs can be summarized by continuing to judge myself and others by the container rather than the content.