In 1985, John Hughes gathered five diverse high-schoolers together for a Saturday detention and proved to the world that we’re not all as different as we think. His creative genius, The Breakfast Club, was a coming-of-age drama that brought an evolving, individualistic, American culture into the mainstream. Yet thirty years later, we are still stuck in the same cultural stereotypes.
As we wade into the murky water surrounding our upcoming presidential election, America has again become consumed by labels—our country is drowning in its identities. Whether it’s issues surrounding gun control, LGBT, racism, politics, or religion, we’re quick to pick a side.
Like our on-screen counterparts, we bicker and fight with ugly, hateful words. Little did John Hughes know how prophetic his screenplay would be:
“Who the hell are you judging, anyway?”
“You know, you don’t even count.”
“If you disappeared forever, it wouldn’t make any difference.”
“Don’t ever compare yourself to me.”
Sadly, there’s a timelessness in those words that echoes across every social media platform today. However, in the midst of the challenges we face, I think there’s a great opportunity for us to look beyond the silver screen and really be reminded that our identities might be more damaging than we think.
The Breakfast Club
For many years, my life was this movie. It’s the way I saw the world. In every situation, I picked out the brains, the princesses, the athletes, the criminals, and the basket cases. I chose to see the world through cultural stereotypes. I knew which ones I wanted to be, and I knew which ones I didn’t want to be. In turn, I spent my time avoiding and judging those who were different or praising and friending those who were similar.
I’m ashamed of that, but if we’re honest, life can easily become defined by the labels we apply. Instead of seeing people as individual human beings, we see them as gay, bigoted, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, Christian, Atheist, Muslim, rich, poor, old, young, racist, you get the picture.
After the attacks of 9/11, America seemed to unite despite our shortcomings. But in recently years, we have begun to fall back into our old habits (Or maybe I’m just naive enough to believe that they ever really went away).
Whether its in our families, in our workplaces, in our churches, or in our neighborhoods, almost every facet of life is dominated by stereotypes. And the result is a society that is becoming a slave to segregation and division.
But if we go back to The Breakfast Club, we find unity in the midst of differences. The Breakfast Club taught us that stereotypes are exhausting, limiting, and shallow—that the weight of our identities is crushing.
You see, you and I are not really that different. Once we let go of our pride and take off the labels, we begin to see who we really are—that whole person underneath. At the end of the day, we all bleed red.
I think there’s three key things that The Breakfast Club has reminded me of in the midst of our current cultural environment that I’d like to point out:
Focus on who you are
I recently heard it said that, “We are acutely aware of who we are not.” I love that. And I’d add that we are acutely aware of what is wrong. If you remember the movie, the students entered detention with a definite understanding of everyone else, but they lacked the vulnerability to remove their own persona long enough to be authentic. As time wore on, they saw the flaw in themselves and found unity within similar struggles.
Too often, we allow our differences to sit in the driver’s seat of our lives. We can quickly point out what is wrong, yet we struggle to find perspective on what is right. Instead, we need to become intentional about understanding and expressing who we are beneath the facade of our emotions. But we are not our emotions.
Look beyond the stereotype
If you’re humble enough to see yourself for who you really are, then you have to begin to see others differently. In the movie, all of the characters felt the need to act in a way that was consistent with their stereotype. And that is what kept them trapped. They refused to break character for fear of what it might mean. But if you recall, beneath the surface, the criminal had a soft side and the basket case was beautiful. Begin looking at the world this way. Once you begin to look beyond the cultural stereotypes, you can begin seeing the real people underneath.
Understand the ‘And’
In the climactic scene, you see all five students leaving in separate directions as their principal, Mr. Vernon, reads this letter left by the teens:
Dear Mr. Vernon,
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, with the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club
Deep down, each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case and a princess and a criminal. This is humbling. But curiously, it causes us to be grateful for our strengths and generous when it comes to other people’s weaknesses. I think John Hughes was on to something. Living a life confined by stereotypes is a hopeless, shallow existence.
My prayer is that we would find unity as we embrace that reminder today.
About the Author:
There are many things that I could tell you about me, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I believe something about you.
I believe that your life is telling an amazing story. And although you might not be able to see it, I hope to help you understand that story better as a way to cultivate wholeness in your life.
You won’t find easy answers here, but you will find honest exploration of the roots of dissatisfaction, and the richness of everyday life. As your life is enriched, it begins to pour over, yielding the wholeness and contentment you long for, both personally and professionally.
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