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.