The definition of the verb “project” has changed in meaning for me since I entered college.
When I was in high school, it meant to speak in a way so that everyone could hear. When I watch the weather, it allows the forecaster to anticipate rain. When I was in geometry and calculus, I didn’t understand what it meant.
The geometric meaning is what distorts how a map looks when hanging on a wall. Because projecting shapes that are on a spherical Earth to a rectangle cannot be easily done without distortion.
Oddly enough, the geometric meaning has been the most significant in my life in the past few years. As I have slowly learned to identify what projecting my beliefs, opinions, and habits onto others looks like and the effects it can have. By applying personal standards to others, they are often distorted and take on different meanings and unseen implications.
This distortion is what we do when we expect women all to have the same body type. At Georgia Tech, it is the distortion that the value of your work depends directly on how related it is to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). It is the expectation that your GPA must meet a specific standard to be successful enough.
Sometimes, projecting is done with a shallow sense of love: wanting to help others towards a goal you have set for them. However, the conflation of encouragement and projection is a dangerous mix that I have seen end in catastrophe. It pushes people towards impossible standards that have been set for them externally. Whether the source is family, friends, school, magazines, or ‘society,’ the outcome of projected expectations can be eating disorders, self-hate, and much more.
Ultimately, learning not project expectation to those around you is one of the best things you can do as a friend, partner, child, or human. Allowing others to exist in a space of love that does not expect anything from them but themselves. It is a lesson I learned the hard way. It is a lesson that is not always easy to identify and follow. However, it means understanding that we all come from different background and are living under different daily truths no matter our size, tone, weight, or accent.
By Christine Gebara