A Different Perspective On Life’s Baggage

First off, right off the bat let me say I am no psychologist…not even close and do not pretend to be one. What I am is a communication person, one who devotes his life to the study and application of communication principles. It is within the context of this undertaking that knowing the basics of human psychology is imperative.

So, after showing my Small Group Communication class the 1957 classic film, “12 Angry Men” (a movie you kinda have to show that class) I asked the class to examine each character and identify the “baggage” each brings to the decision-making process that may act as a hindrance to consensus.

This got me thinking…I think, therefore I blog.

Baggage. We all have it. It is unfortunate that we often understand the concept of baggage as something of a negative.  If we were take the term literally, I believe most of us would concede that we have some bags that are quite nice and filled with items of great value, as well as possessing crappy bags, filled with crappy stuff. Yet each are bags nonetheless.

Today I would like to shed some light on the notion of baggage, why we have it and need it, types of baggage and how we can use it to our advantage, particularly in the communication process.

One of the definitions of the term baggage—things that encumber one’s freedom, progress, development, or adaptability, ie impediments—is the one we are most generally familiar with when understanding the concept in terms of one’s personal psychology. Yet, how can one NOT have baggage? Even if one were born into an extremely functional environment, living a healthy life without anything extraordinarily wonderful nor horribly traumatic taking place, this would still constitute a form of baggage all on its own accord.

In other words, baggage is unavoidable and must always be discussed in terms of the matter of degree, not whether or not one possesses it.

It is imperative that we understand exactly what baggage we bring to the conveyor belt of life as to better understand our own personal prejudices, bias, and perceptions.

To begin, it is important to understand what baggage is not.  Baggage is not the sum total of our total life experience as a human being. Rather, baggage would be those events that have played a significant role in the shaping of our psyche. For example, what restaurants you may have frequented as a child would not constitute as baggage (unless, of course, some life-altering events occurred during a visit), yet a parental divorce, frequently being bullied as a child, or abuse of some sort, certainly could be.

One may have successfully overcome a particular tragic event, still, as they say, you cannot unring that bell. One may certainly be an abuse “survivor” for example, yet will always have that experience in their psyche.

So, with this backdrop, today day I bring to you the three basic types of baggage all human beings share.

Basic Baggage. This is the basic fundamental baggage in all of us who have not lived a perfect life (read: no one) that we share in common: The garden variety baggage, if you will. It refers to those experiences that we actually remember and that played a role in shaping who we are today. This baggage forms the behaviors and beliefs in our lives that we would consider “normal.” Basic Baggage is typically evidenced and better understood when one first becomes a parent and romanticizes the history of one’s own life to best figure out how to raise a child. Issues such as spanking, yelling, disciplining, religious or non-religious training are examples of issues that we generally extract from our personal “Basic Baggage stew” and somehow allow this baggage to identify what we consider “common sense” and “normal.”

Please make no mistake…it is still all Basic Baggage.

One of my pet peeves is when one opines that a certain action or inaction was practiced and it is justified because, “that is the way I was raised and I turned out just fine.” Or justified because “it is what we have always done.”

Really? Maybe if you were raised differently you could have been the next Einstein, Mozart or Elon Musk; and, well, maybe you and life practices were just done plain wrong.

Basic Baggage can be some of the most harmful as it is disguised as what constitutes normal behavior…and there is no such thing. Which takes us to…

Beastly Baggage. This is the shit baggage and the baggage we typically think of when hearing or using the term. Perhaps one of the worst aspects of Beastly Baggage is that a great deal of it cannot be remembered into adulthood—therefore making it very difficult to identify it and attempt to remedy it as an adult. Either through denial or a means in which to psychologically survive a traumatic ordeal, this baggage cuts deep into our beings. We should consider ourselves fortunate if we recall such traumatic events as then we can best understand the significant role it played in the formation of our persona, and take measures to best understand and deal with it.

I have no idea just how deep my personal Beastly Baggage penetrates my soul, yet I know it must be pretty deep as I have my fair share of shit in this strange mind of mine. One way to gauge this baggage is to attempt to objectively examine our personal emotional reactions to certain experiences. If we have a particularly strong reaction towards a behavior that evokes a powerful emotional response and we are not sure why, my bet is there exists some Beastly Baggage and that best be uncovered. Free the beast….and then head directly to a therapist’s office

Benevolent Baggage. I identify this third category as Benevolent as on its surface it is kind and loving baggage that contributes to our personal psychological health and functionality into adulthood. For example, I could point to the fact that my parents have been together for going on 60 years as Benevolent Baggage…to come from an intact family was and is beneficial to my experiences as an adult—it taught me the value of commitment…then why would I refer to such a thing as Baggage? Perhaps this experience will be the baggage I bring to a conversation with a friend who is considering divorce. My Benevolent Baggage has very little understanding or tolerance for those who opt to not stay committed to each other.  I must identify this Benevolent Baggage and realize that separation and divorce may very well be the best option for a couple…yet my baggage makes this very difficult to understand.

Once we recognize the baggage we possess in our own lives, be it basic, beastly or benevolent, it helps us to better understand our particular prejudices and assists in identifying what we can uniquely bring to the cultural conversation.

There you have it.  What a world it would be if we all could identify our various baggage and understand the prejudicial dynamic each one of us brings to our daily encounters. If so, perhaps “12 Angry Men” would be re-titled to, “12 Understanding and Compassionate Men.” But who would then watch that movie? Unchecked baggage does indeed make life interesting.

But what do I know? I’m no psychologist…I just try to play a communicative one in the classroom.




  1. Jimmy,
    While I’ve been reading through your different posts I’ve tried to find one, anyone that I could disagree with, respectively of course, or otherwise challenge. I’m not saying you are the perfect human, or voice of a generation, buuuut, the pickin’s are slim. That said, this is not such a post. I found no concept offensive, no thought process unguided or illogical and unsurprisingly I agree with it. Furthermore it really struck a chord. That’s the real motivation for my response, that and the hope of some kind of extra credit. (I’m avaricious.)
    The basic and benevolent baggage are excellent categories. Each can be viewed and dissected. Each can be difficult to identify, but overall user friendly. User friendly as in, you can maybe take a day and not excessive emotional toll and look into some small aspect of either one. Not user friendly as in, it will be fun to challenge your preconceived notions of right and wrong, good and evil, Bono and B. Spears.
    The concept that really struck a chord was the Beastly Baggage. This shit is nasty. It crops up out of nowhere and can emotionally hijack at any time or place. For no reason other than the dust surrounding it’s lair being briefly disturbed Beastly Baggage comes out guns blazing.
    I’ve never been particularly emotionally invested in any election. I’ve abstained from voting in the past, voted 3rd party, voted because I was told to vote for a certain candidate. Overall not easily shaken by the political process, or overly motivated to change it. This recent election changed that for me. I’m not saying I will devote my life to politics or anything, but the dis-ease I have felt, and the lack of effectual actions to take are motivation to at least tug on the curtain a bit. Anyways, emotional response, Beastly Baggage, striking a chord. All of this ties together for me in a moment of extreme guilt, despair and heartbreak in my driveway the other night. After talking with a friend about the ramifications of this election, reading posts on twitter and having a bit of time to wade through the reality I sat defeated. I sat sobbing in my truck in the middle of the night. I sat having such an extreme emotional response to something that in all reality will not impact my life as harshly as it has already impacted millions of other people. And it hit me, I wasn’t sad for our country (which I am), and it wasn’t that I was crying over relationships (which I value), it wasn’t even succumbing to the guilt that I couldn’t say for sure if I didn’t vote Libertarian what I would have done (which is present). What hit me was that hairpin thin memory of an ideal, a philosophy, an undercurrent I have tried to stay true to my entire life seemingly disappearing before me like an imaginary friend I no longer had use for. It was remembering how people I love very deeply had explained Trump to me, “He’s a business man.” , ” It was just locker room bullshit.”, and the lack in those explanations of any validation towards the many people fearing for their rights, their respect as human beings, and in some cases their lives. It was the realization that people I had looked up to had no clue of the possible oppression this could bring. Worse yet, it was the realization that I had not stood up to it. It was the gut wrenching feeling that I had allowed it, let it have breath and not brought it into the light for true examination. It was the conviction that the ideals I thought I have stood for my entire life were not in effect at that point in time, and maybe never have been. It was a feeling of extreme disgust and mistrust of everything I have every known, and every dismissive remark I have ever been party to or talked down to with. It was the realization that an entire life had lead up to that moment of submission and silence. That an entire existence had lead to a moment of doubt. A moment of maybe he’s not so bad. A moment of there are always sacrifices. I don’t know exactly what event or events have lead to that level of apathy within myself. And even now that I recognize it will I actually do anything to change? Or will I continue sitting out the problems because they aren’t mine, or worse still too personal to want to deal with.
    I don’t know if any of this is what you had in mind when you set forth your challenge. But it’s what I got, and class is almost to an end.
    It has been a pleasure, I look forward to future encounters.
    Thank you for your posts and your time as an educator. [Insert brown noser emoji]

  2. Jimmy,
    As I’ve been reading through your argument, when you said “Basic Baggage can be some of the most harmful as it is disguised as what constitutes normal behavior…”, I would have to disagree with you on the most ‘most harmful’ part. Basic Baggage, is a part of life whether it’s good or bad which will determine who we end up becoming. Personally my life has been a Basic Baggage growing up in a religious family having sets of rules to follow, in order to live a better life. For some people I can see it being damaging, however, we can’t determine how dangerous this normal or common sense way of living will do to those growing up. If ever had lived a perfect life without any type of disciplined, life would be easy and there would be no challenges and growth. I can understand if parents take things to far with their methods of disciplinary action, but I guess parents want their children to succeed and not screw in life. I also believe that no lives a perfect life. Even if someone had lived a perfect life they wouldn’t be the next Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan or Leonardo Da Vinci. Overall,l congratulate you with all the excellent points you brought up in argument. I really made understand the concept of ‘Basic Baggage’ which I can totally relate to. Believe me this was the greatest part in the argument that has brought my attention. Thanks again Jimmy!

  3. Jimmy,
    After reading through several of your entries, I have found this the most interesting. Most people would not consider a thing such as “benevolent baggage” to be a thing. People who have been through traumatic experiences may even go at length to be offended by someone calling their happy experiences baggage. But I think that it can very well be baggage, just in a different sense. This has definitely sparked a new idea in my mind.
    Thank you.

  4. Hi Jimmy,

    I disagree, but only to an extent, with one of your statements. That statement is that “baggage is unavoidable.” Although you might have already been thinking this when you wrote that statement, I’ll add it as a caveat. Certain types of baggage is most certainly avoidable. So I’d say that although one will inevitably experience baggage in their life, they can take a risk-management approach when it comes to making life decisions that will most certainly cause one more difficulty and also accrue more baggage later on in life. For example, I certainly wouldn’t have as much (especially the type of) baggage that I currently have had I not chosen to use heavier drugs when I was younger.

    So, although I agree that all baggage accumulation is inevitable, I urge readers of this comment to wisely manage their choices so that they can accumulate more benevolent baggage than beastly. Also, I’d like to give you kudos on pointing out how subliminally insidious ‘basic baggage’ can really be. It causes us to act in ways we don’t even realize every single moment.

    Thanks for listening

  5. I stumbled across this post several weeks ago and figured now would be a good time to respond. This post touched me personally. Baggage has been something I have discussed many times over the years. We all have baggage and it is how we define this baggage that makes us who we are and also how we move forward in life and relationships. After my divorce I was thrown into my head where, at times, can be an extremely busy, destructive place. I pondered the fact I will be moving forward in this world with, now, more baggage as a single mom, divorced, and with 3 little girls. How was I to define this “baggage” that comes along with me? Well, there was no need to separate this baggage from the boat load of baggage I had already placed in my backpack from all the accumulated years of life and trust me I have some baggage. This was just another piece to add to “me”. This additional baggage was an extension of me. I think at times people get wrapped up in the negativity associated with word “baggage” and do not realize it is not baggage at all, but pieces of who they were and the glue to who they will become. I cannot argue with you about this post. I agree with you. Thank you for defining baggage in its entirety and giving those who stumble across this a different perspective.

    • Thank you for the comment Lileena. I really don’t know how you single moms do it. Wow. Much respect in terms of your commitment to motherhood, excellence as a student and perseverance to move forward in positivity!.

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