The internet defines definition as:
but that probably doesn’t really cover it.
Definition is complicated, because it’s quite subjective, for something purported to be ‘exact’. My definition of something might be completely different to someone else’s, and it’s easy to trip up when you begin trying to apply your definitions to the wider world. You learn quickly that if your definition clashes with someone else’s, you’re probably in for a rocky ride.
This train of thought stems from a comic by a lovely artist called Ruby, which I saw last week. The comic is about a person being instantly pigeonholed by the person they are talking to, and the message is about not defining people by a single trait. It’s a message I totally agree with, but wow, did it generate some discussion.
In particular, one commentator stated that you are defined by your actions – so if you paint, you’re a painter, and if you’ve got soul then you’re a soldier, etc. Which is definitely one way to develop a definition, but as was pointed out in response, might mean you define someone by their least favoured action or trait.
The thing is, some people get angry about this. They see it as presumptive. But we need definitions to make sense of the world, and until you are told that your definition of a person is subjectively wrong, you will naturally ascribe them the definition which best suits them according to your understanding.
I’ve moved around a lot in my life, particularly through my childhood, and I am bad at answering the question ‘where are you from?’ because I haven’t properly decided my own answer. Or it varies with context. So I don’t mind that some people see me as Northern and some as Southern. But I do mind when people use their definition of me to assume something about me. Like, that I’m Southern so I don’t like mushy peas. Or I’m Northern so I never feel the cold.
These are obviously small examples, but this applies on a massive scale. We now live in an age where people are encouraged to self-define, but by doing so they often end up in someone else’s definition by mistake. You said you were this, so you must be XYZ. And if you’re not, you can’t be in the gang.
What’s your point, Sally? I hear you ask. Glad you asked, world.
My point is, don’t impose your definitions on other people, and don’t be offended if they have a different definition from you. If it’s you they are defining, correct them. Explain your side as far as possible. Recognise that they may have existed until this point never meeting anyone like you because there is no-one else like you. We need definition in life, to understand the world around us, and our place in it. If someone has misunderstood you, help them understand. If you’ve misunderstood someone else, don’t let their self-definition force you to try and find a box to put them in. They might not fit there. That’s fine.