Much of what I do these days centres on celebrating the individuality of people and of assisting them to make the most of this uniqueness.
Sometimes this seems to be a bit like King Canute trying to turn the tide as one sees a world where conformity seems to be heralded at every turn. Whether it is how we are educated, what we should think or what we should do, being part of the crowd seems to be the established norm.
However, as so often happens, a couple of things have occurred recently that serve to convince me that continuing to put people into neat boxes is wrong and that it is important that I continue what I do.
In a world where so much is superficial and where instant opinions seem to be formed with little thought, the concept of putting people in boxes may be convenient but is totally misleading.
If one looks up the definition of ‘box’ in the dictionary then we learn that it is a rigid structure that is designed to contain something. What a box doesn’t do is allow any freedom for the contents.
Phrases such as ‘being boxed in’ serve only to confirm the restrictive nature of boxes and the tendency of boxes to hide the contents assumes that all contents are the same and that there are no individual items within the box.
For years governments have failed to find a solution to homelessness probably because they are ‘put in the same box’ as people that are lazy and should go and get a job. Most people don’t even stop and wonder what happened in their life to get them to that state or how they could begin to get out of it.
The winner of my Breakthrough Award last year was a woman that started a social enterprise in order to give homeless people skills and an opportunity to start back doing something productive.
She worked with others to teach the homeless to use cameras as a means of expressing themselves and then to produce a calendar that they could sell. With the initial success the enterprise was able to continue the work of developing even more creative camera skills and the result has been to produce an exhibition of work for a major arts festival.
Not only does this project change the perception of these once homeless people, it has sparked a debate about whether creativity can change the perception of homelessness in other ways.
The second confirmation of my belief in the need to look at individuals rather than as neatly arranged boxes came when I spoke at a conference about entrepreneurship for well-qualified migrants.
Not only was I impressed by the response to the training programmes for migrants; it also highlighted for me the dangers of putting this group into a box.
Europe has seen a massive upheaval in the political scene because of what is observed to be a migrant crisis. Again, what this does is to put all migrants into the same box.
What this conference showed was that many of these migrants that are fleeing war and persecution are doing so, not because they want to, but because they have to.
Moreover, many of these migrants are highly educated and could be of great value to the societies where they now live. However, by putting them in a box, they end up doing menial jobs to survive and their knowledge is wasted.
What it also taught me was that migrant travel is not just one way. Despite attempts to limit migration in the western world, the western world is quite ready to participate in their own migration.
Most white Americans can be traced back to European migrants and, most other parts of the world have European migrants as well. However, unlike those travelling towards Europe, the Europeans prefer to call themselves ‘expats’!
I myself am an immigrant having decamped to Turkey over ten years ago. But, of course, we find it uncomfortable to label ourselves that way as it may have a negative connotation.
Both of these happenings in the last month have convinced me that, however much the world tries to rationalise their box mentality, I am right to think of people differently.
If people must put others in boxes, we must make sure that the box does not become a coffin, and we must see it as a box of chocolates with a multiplicity of flavours only fulfilling their potential when taken out of the box.
But I still believe that the box is something that needs to be banned if we are to unlock the potential of all human beings.