Understanding where people are coming from, or putting them in boxes

Loosely related to my thread on Postliberalism . . . .

I have become a total devotee of the writings and sermons (many on YouTube) of Sam Wells (Vicar of St Martins in the Fields), and I doubt if I am alone on this ship. And I've spent rather a lot of time, trying to work out where to place him on the spectrum of theological positions within the CoE.

And I am pretty sure that for many shipmates, this desire to put people in a box, is really really naff. Especially as he makes, SFAIK, no attempt to self identify as this or that.

So I look for clues. Lots of use of the works of John Milbank - so Radical Orthodox? And of the Yale Theologians, plus seven years at Duke with known links to Yale etc etc ad nauseam.

What's the point? Well here is my not so confident defence of box assignment.

Everything a person says or writes can have shades of meaning according to where they are coming from. So if I was reading an essay on political economy and how the UK could benefit from change, I would like to know whether the person is left, right and by how much - and usually you can easily find out. So for the rightist "freedom" is mainly about political freedom from being legislated against for non-conformity, whereas for the leftist, it is as much, and probably more about economic freedom from being excluded from society by economic pressures and restricted in ones choices. And there are many such cases.

So when Wells says that the whole OT story can be grasped in miniature by the story of Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego, it'd be kind of nice to know where he stands on the historicity of these events. If that was said by James Kugel, who I've mentioned before, I'd know. And I strongly suspect with Revd Sam. Same with his placement of baptism front and centre as the way Christ's body grows. That makes him sound very Radical Orthodox, but it would surprise me if he had any real doubt about God's grace for Salvationists, and it would be nice to know why he never or rarely talks about accepting Christ, being converted etc. There is quite a streak of Calvinistic Universalism at Yale, with Dale Martin being pretty explicit there, could that be a factor?

But mostly I have to admit I want him to be part of My Team because he's a very good player. I'd be really quite p'd off to find out he's a closet fundie. Not that there's much risk of that.

Are there any fellow practitioners in the dubious practice of box assignment? Or any recommended cures?
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Comments

  • My local parish church is in vacancy at the moment so we get a lot of visiting ministers, often elderly and of mixed theological and sometimes denominational backgrounds. I get very twitchy about homophobia, racism, transphobia, conversionism, PSA, sectarianism and probably others I've not mentioned (yes I'm a very twitchy guy; welcome to anxiety!) I also have a tendency to read between the lines, and certain words and phrases make me rush to conclusions. So, someone who asserts, say, that Christians are being persecuted in the UK my spidey sense tells me they're a homophobe. If I knew a bit more about their background, where they're coming from, what "box" they fit in then it might mitigate my fears somewhat. Alas, probably not often but at least sometimes. And it's easier to be tolerant if people's flaws if you know more of the good in their teaching.
  • Side note: I was grateful for the OP, as it made me Google 'Radical Orthodoxy', and now I know what box I fit in. Which is extremely helpful, IMHO.
  • Ask him! From: "You are welcome to contact members of the clergy.
    Email addresses follow the format firstname.surname@smitf.org". If you don't, I will!

    I want that story to be historical, like I want Jonah to be. But neither of them is, as we know. Daniel is a C2nd BCE myth, a school and no supernaturally inspired prophet, as we know. As Wells knows. He can't not.

    I very much doubt that he and you even want them all to be historical, as they would make God well on the way to being the Killer and future eternity would have already happened or God has knowledge of material (including transcendent, 'glorified') reality otherwise beyond quantum physics and other such bollocks.

    I'd like them to be if I can turn a blind eye to that. And I can't.
  • I dislike boxes. Nobody ever fits neatly into one, and others who have button-holed someone hear what they say through the lens of their prejudices.

    However, it's a natural thing to do, and we all do it to some extent.
  • Some of us started off in one box and have morphed into another. I am not sure it is helpful to jump to conclusions, though one can look for signs.
  • Anteater wrote: »
    Are there any fellow practitioners in the dubious practice of box assignment?
    Yes, billions of them. In fact, every, single human on the entire planet. It is part of how we function. It is a feature of our humanity.
    The problem is that we construct the boxes too quickly and too rigidly. Even when we allow reality to challenge the box we construct another just as rigid.
  • Martin:
    I want that story to be historical, like I want Jonah to be. But neither of them is, as we know. Daniel is a C2nd BCE myth, a school and no supernaturally inspired prophet, as we know. As Wells knows. He can't not.
    None of that prevents you from agreeing with the statements that the whole OT story can be grasped in miniature by the story of Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego. Or does it?

    Mind you, I'd question your use of myth in this context.
    Ask him!
    Well I never thought of that. I tend to think that people are too busy to respond. And I'm a bit shy! (What happened to emojis?). And is that Samuel or Sam?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    So how does the story of the Fiery Furnace represent the OT in miniature? In the portrait of Jewish fidelity to God and in the divine intervention? You could say the same thing about Ruth only it has a twist: the heroine is a faithful Moabite and God redeems her by acting indirectly through the events of Providence and human compassion.
  • Anteater wrote: »
    Martin:
    I want that story to be historical, like I want Jonah to be. But neither of them is, as we know. Daniel is a C2nd BCE myth, a school and no supernaturally inspired prophet, as we know. As Wells knows. He can't not.
    None of that prevents you from agreeing with the statements that the whole OT story can be grasped in miniature by the story of Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego. Or does it?

    Mind you, I'd question your use of myth in this context.
    Ask him!
    Well I never thought of that. I tend to think that people are too busy to respond. And I'm a bit shy! (What happened to emojis?). And is that Samuel or Sam?

    Use both. I.e. 2 different email addresses in the 'To'.

    If 'Daniel', the central C6th BCE character in a multiply sourced, dual language, edited, C2nd BCE foundation story (and false prophecy while we're at it), isn't mythic, who, what is he?

    And I don't see SM&A as a microcosm of 'salvation history' no. I don't know how Wells does.
  • The other name for "boxes" is "nouns" and we can't talk without them.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    The other name for "boxes" is "nouns" and we can't talk without them.
    As long as one remembers that more than one noun can apply, a noun can apply conditionally and the noun one applies mightn't be the best fit.

  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    The other name for "boxes" is "nouns" and we can't talk without them.
    As long as one remembers that more than one noun can apply, a noun can apply conditionally and the noun one applies mightn't be the best fit.
    All good points.
  • Martin:
    And I don't see SM&A as a microcosm of 'salvation history' no. I don't know how Wells does.
    Well maybe you should listen to him and tell me what you think. I don't think his sermon on Daniel 3 is on tube or available as a separate video. But you can get it as part of the 2012 Duke Univ Baccalaureate Service here but you need to fast forward about one hour for the start of the sermon. Or read the pdf Here

    I'd like a view on his preaching, because he is the first preacher since I used to sit at the feet of Martyn Lloyd-Jones who I find truly inspiring. The difference between him and MLJ being, or course, that MLJ and me at that time were (setting aside hairline distinctions) fundamentalist reformed evangelical. Which I am no longer and I'm sure Wells is not. Which is why I'm so drawn to him as someone who inhabits an intellectually tenable universe and communicates a full-on Christian message. I think others have it in their beliefs but just don't have the communication ability (e.g. ex ABC Rowan).

    But everyone has to come to terms with his total refusal to engage with the question about the relation of the story he preaches on to what is justifiably believable from a historical evidence point of view. And I have no real doubt that he views the story about as historical as you do. But relates to the history question differently. So is that using rhetoric to bamboozle? or seeing God's revelation in terms of story? I think the latter.

    I expect he believes it is a true account of what happened to the Israelites in Babylon, expressed in the way that it is. And paradoxically, the more you focus in on the Bible as Hard Fact, the less you have to believe in the Bible as Inspired, since if it all rests on facts it makes no difference whether they are related by the Bible or Fox News.
  • Anteater wrote: »
    Martin:
    And I don't see SM&A as a microcosm of 'salvation history' no. I don't know how Wells does.
    Well maybe you should listen to him and tell me what you think. I don't think his sermon on Daniel 3 is on tube or available as a separate video. But you can get it as part of the 2012 Duke Univ Baccalaureate Service here but you need to fast forward about one hour for the start of the sermon. Or read the pdf Here

    I'd like a view on his preaching, because he is the first preacher since I used to sit at the feet of Martyn Lloyd-Jones who I find truly inspiring. The difference between him and MLJ being, or course, that MLJ and me at that time were (setting aside hairline distinctions) fundamentalist reformed evangelical. Which I am no longer and I'm sure Wells is not. Which is why I'm so drawn to him as someone who inhabits an intellectually tenable universe and communicates a full-on Christian message. I think others have it in their beliefs but just don't have the communication ability (e.g. ex ABC Rowan).

    But everyone has to come to terms with his total refusal to engage with the question about the relation of the story he preaches on to what is justifiably believable from a historical evidence point of view. And I have no real doubt that he views the story about as historical as you do. But relates to the history question differently. So is that using rhetoric to bamboozle? or seeing God's revelation in terms of story? I think the latter.

    I expect he believes it is a true account of what happened to the Israelites in Babylon, expressed in the way that it is. And paradoxically, the more you focus in on the Bible as Hard Fact, the less you have to believe in the Bible as Inspired, since if it all rests on facts it makes no difference whether they are related by the Bible or Fox News.

    Yep! Dang! I like it. I see what he means. All the pieces are there. He's right. And we don't have to worry that he's a closet wooden literalist are even an historico-grammatico. The story is as theologically valid as Jonah or any of the evolution of God and more. Beautiful. Which is why I've always wanted it to be true. Even though it cannot be. That's irrelevant. It's still true.

    Thanks very much Anteater.

    This all meets me where I am, staring down the infinite pit of rationalism and declaring God over it and beneath it and in it and asking Him in, asking Him for conviction every day.

    I could cry! Nearly did : )
  • Thinking about this a little more, I realise that by using the Enneagram to categorise individuals so that I can better understand why they react in the way they do (having been brought to tears when categorising myself!) I am doing exactly what is suggested in the op. For the best of reasons, and avoiding prejudices long the way.
  • SipechSipech Shipmate
    One of the dangers I'm wary of is that if you have a label (noun) that you apply to someone, even if they are happy with the term themselves, that you can then all too easily apply prejudices or assumed connotations to that label.

    For example, when someone introduced me as their "evangelical friend" to someone else, the other person made the instant assumption that I was a Zionist. n.b. I am not.

    Others assume I'm a conservative, a Calvinist, a fundamentalist or that I am a disciple of Jordan Peterson. All of which is completely false. But just that one word triggers a whole set of assumptions/prejudices in people that serve no useful purpose in understanding my theological underpinnings.

    On a slightly different tack to the broader subject, I am a hater of the question "Where are you from?" Firstly, it assumes one place only. I was born in one place, spent my childhood in another, my early adult life somewhere else and have lived in 3 different towns in 3 different counties over the last 10 years. If I give the name of one of the places I've lived, what does that benefit my interlocutor? It doesn't tell them who I am, what my passions are, what I do with my working or personal life. It's just trivia.
  • Martin:
    Jolly good. And his passion - whilst never loud, has moved me almost to tears. Go to YouTube for his sermon on "I want to know Christ". Possibly meant for the likes of you and me.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    I don’t like using boxes unless I have to. As mentioned it is not really possible to live without them. Peoples assumptions of me are inevitably wrong, or at least only partly right. I tend not to make strong assumptions about anyone.
    On a slight tangent all this talk of boxes reminds me of Miss Marple. She put people into boxes. People who have such and such characteristics will behave in such and such a way.
  • Raptor Eye wrote: »
    Thinking about this a little more, I realise that by using the Enneagram to categorise individuals so that I can better understand why they react in the way they do (having been brought to tears when categorising myself!) I am doing exactly what is suggested in the op. For the best of reasons, and avoiding prejudices long the way.
    One cannot put people in boxes without creating prejudices. By categorising a person, you are pre judging their behaviour.
    That is one of the problems with things like the Enneagram or Briggs-Meyers.

    An Enneagram looks like a Briggs-Meyrs for pagans.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited September 20
    Whereas as Myers–Briggs is only for those away with the Jungian faeries...
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, Hell Host
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Whereas as Myers–Briggs is only for those away with the Jungian faeries...
    It's a party game that's taken seriously and used to force people into really restrictive boxes.


  • People will be put into boxes with or without Meyers-Briggs. What Meyers-Briggs allows is for strong personality types to be called "INTJ" instead of "asshole." Used right it can be an occasion of people saying, "This is how you're wired. You're not being a jerk, or lazy, or whatever, but it's just how your mind works."
  • lilbuddhalilbuddha Shipmate
    edited September 20
    Meyers-Briggs was invented by two untrained people based on some musings by Jung that even he did not take seriously.
    Understanding how one's mind works is a good thing. Using pseudo-science to attempt it, isn't.

    I get why people like it. It gives them a reason for how they are, but it doesn't do so accurately and a diagnosis is not good enough by itself anyway.
  • Jemima the 9thJemima the 9th Shipmate
    edited September 22
    Understanding how one's mind works & why one might react to certain things in certain ways, is a really good thing. What one shouldn’t do is make that restrictive or use it as an excuse - I didn’t shout at you because I’m an enneagram 8, I shouted at you because I was being an arsehole.

    I quite like the Enneagram. All the useful stuff I’ve heard and read about it is very clear that one should only use it as a tool to learn about oneself, and one should absolutely not “type” others (oh that’s such a 4 thing to say! Etc).

    Having said all of that, I plead guilty to putting people in boxes. Such an 8 thing to do. (Kidding!) I too am an anxious person and often prickly. It can be an act of self-preservation, especially in church, sadly. Eg it looks like this person is going to say something which is bad for my mental health, so I’m going to ignore it.

    But it’s a really bad habit of mine. I’m an ardent remainer and was absolutely guilty of assuming Brexiters were a certain type of people.
  • Understanding how one's mind works & why one might react to certain things in certain ways, is a really good thing. What one shouldn’t do is make that restrictive or use it as an excuse - I didn’t shout at you because I’m an enneagram 8, I shouted at you because I was being an arsehole.

    I quite like the Enneagram. All the useful stuff I’ve heard and read about it is very clear that one should only use it as a tool to learn about oneself, and one should absolutely not “type” others (oh that’s such a 4 thing to say! Etc).
    IMO and IME, one should not type oneself either. Attempting to know oneself is good. However, tools like The Big Five, MBTI and the Enneagram are poor ones. We do not so rigidly fit into moulds and where we "fit" is contextual and fluid.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    ... But it’s a really bad habit of mine. I’m an ardent remainer and was absolutely guilty of assuming Brexiters were a certain type of people.
    Quite a lot of them are. So it's easy to get into the way of assuming that they all are.
  • Rossweisse wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    Whereas as Myers–Briggs is only for those away with the Jungian faeries...
    It's a party game that's taken seriously and used to force people into really restrictive boxes.

    Nice. When I were at uni the Lüscher Colour Test were all the rage...
  • The only known Brexiteer I have met told me that every homeless person on British streets was from Romania.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    My church is doing a Hub (10 week one night a week) based on Enneagrams, among others. I am not doing it. I really don’t like that kind of thing. I always find it hard to fit in them. I do not think in straight lines (as some of you may have guessed).
    We all have natural ability, dancing, sport, acting etc but then it it is anyone’s guess.
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    Understanding how one's mind works & why one might react to certain things in certain ways, is a really good thing. What one shouldn’t do is make that restrictive or use it as an excuse - I didn’t shout at you because I’m an enneagram 8, I shouted at you because I was being an arsehole.

    I quite like the Enneagram. All the useful stuff I’ve heard and read about it is very clear that one should only use it as a tool to learn about oneself, and one should absolutely not “type” others (oh that’s such a 4 thing to say! Etc).
    IMO and IME, one should not type oneself either. Attempting to know oneself is good. However, tools like The Big Five, MBTI and the Enneagram are poor ones. We do not so rigidly fit into moulds and where we "fit" is contextual and fluid.

    I agree absolutely about the moulds. The latest podcast I was listening to on the Enneagram was talking about the 3 subtypes of each type, giving 27, which almost made me wonder whether it’s worth doing when you have so many!

    I suppose where I find it useful is because (I believe) it helps with my good points and bad points. It feels more useful in that way than, say, Myers Briggs. But I’d only ever see it as one tool among many, or a starting point for further investigation, or something like that.

    There is something lovely about feeling seen & heard, and it was great for that. And also that I’m not, for example, necessarily an awkward, cantankerous cow, but that part of what might also be going on is me being a female 8 in an evangelical church which doesn’t like mouthy women. I am, ofc, also often an awkward, cantankerous cow.
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    One cannot put people in boxes without creating prejudices. By categorising a person, you are pre judging their behaviour.
    That is one of the problems with things like the Enneagram or Briggs-Meyers.

    What alternative would you propose?
  • I find the enneagram fascinating, especially in its more detailed and dynamic forms. At the moment it seems to be impossible for any schema to be both accurate and helpful.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    My feeling about the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs is that they're a kind of Rorschach test. They may have not much more intrinsic cognitive value than an inkblot, but if you talk about what you see when you look into them you might come up with something helpful.
    While it's not desirable to put people in boxes, much of the time we operate with unconscious binary boxes, and it can be helpful to unsettle our unconscious binary boxes with non-binary boxes, especially when those non-binary boxes have been specifically constructed to be non-normative. (By contrast with Fowler's Stages of Faith, for example, which is specifically designed to say that each stage is an advance upon the earlier stages.)

    I believe the use of Myers-Briggs typing by recruitment agencies to weed out candidates with the 'wrong' personalities is or at least used to be considered an abuse and condemned by the major spokespeople for the system.
  • I recommend haruspicy.
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    I recommend haruspicy.

    Can we use your guts @Martin54?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited September 23
    This should do it: Describe in single words, only the good things that come in to your mind about ... your mother.
  • One of the struggles in psychotherapy is not to pigeonhole people. Tests strike me as anathema. There is an attempt to approach someone 'without memory or desire', which often fails, of course. But also not.
  • Hugal wrote: »
    My church is doing a Hub (10 week one night a week) based on Enneagrams, among others. I am not doing it. I really don’t like that kind of thing. I always find it hard to fit in them. I do not think in straight lines (as some of you may have guessed).
    We all have natural ability, dancing, sport, acting etc but then it it is anyone’s guess.

    The Enneagram is unlike the others. It allows for everybody not fitting into a neat box, but recognises that everybody has learned to react, and that the reactions can be understood. We can't change them, as they are ingrained, but we can learn to live with and help develop our tendencies toward positive outcomes rather than negative ones. I think it's compatible with Christianity, and the way we try to overcome sinful tendencies.
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    One cannot put people in boxes without creating prejudices. By categorising a person, you are pre judging their behaviour.
    That is one of the problems with things like the Enneagram or Briggs-Meyers.

    What alternative would you propose?
    Odd question. Do we need an alternative for horoscopes?
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    Hugal wrote: »
    My church is doing a Hub (10 week one night a week) based on Enneagrams, among others. I am not doing it. I really don’t like that kind of thing. I always find it hard to fit in them. I do not think in straight lines (as some of you may have guessed).
    We all have natural ability, dancing, sport, acting etc but then it it is anyone’s guess.

    The Enneagram is unlike the others. It allows for everybody not fitting into a neat box, but recognises that everybody has learned to react, and that the reactions can be understood. We can't change them, as they are ingrained, but we can learn to live with and help develop our tendencies toward positive outcomes rather than negative ones. I think it's compatible with Christianity, and the way we try to overcome sinful tendencies.

    Sorry did not make myself clear. I meant among other hubs (Bible Study, and Happiness to name two) not other forms of category system. What you say is interesting though.
  • Dafyd wrote: »

    I believe the use of Myers-Briggs typing by recruitment agencies to weed out candidates with the 'wrong' personalities is or at least used to be considered an abuse and condemned by the major spokespeople for the system.

    At least according to this book review, in 1975 Myers sold the rights to the test to a company that was willing to market them to anyone.

  • Hugal wrote: »
    Raptor Eye wrote: »
    Hugal wrote: »
    My church is doing a Hub (10 week one night a week) based on Enneagrams, among others. I am not doing it. I really don’t like that kind of thing. I always find it hard to fit in them. I do not think in straight lines (as some of you may have guessed).
    We all have natural ability, dancing, sport, acting etc but then it it is anyone’s guess.

    The Enneagram is unlike the others. It allows for everybody not fitting into a neat box, but recognises that everybody has learned to react, and that the reactions can be understood. We can't change them, as they are ingrained, but we can learn to live with and help develop our tendencies toward positive outcomes rather than negative ones. I think it's compatible with Christianity, and the way we try to overcome sinful tendencies.

    Sorry did not make myself clear. I meant among other hubs (Bible Study, and Happiness to name two) not other forms of category system. What you say is interesting though.

    Ah, sorry I misunderstood. And thank you.

  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    One cannot put people in boxes without creating prejudices. By categorising a person, you are pre judging their behaviour.
    That is one of the problems with things like the Enneagram or Briggs-Meyers.

    An Enneagram looks like a Briggs-Meyrs for pagans.

    EVERYBODY puts people into boxes. We can't help it. We couldn't cope with the world if we treated everybody and everything in it as sui generis. The question is, will you say "That guy is a real asshole" or will you say "Oh, he's an INTP so what I take as assholery is part of his personality." Because people will do one or the other.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    edited September 23
    MBTI is kind of fun with me as I do not 'type' consistently on it. Back in the 1990s it was a favourite, and I ended up taking the flipping thing multiple times, and they reach the tentative conclusion that I belonged in one of the four pigeon holes that ended in TJ. ;)
  • mousethief wrote: »
    People will be put into boxes with or without Meyers-Briggs. What Meyers-Briggs allows is for strong personality types to be called "INTJ" instead of "asshole." Used right it can be an occasion of people saying, "This is how you're wired. You're not being a jerk, or lazy, or whatever, but it's just how your mind works."

    Oh dear. Um, there's me labeled. :lol:
  • I think it's true that the human mind can't resist pigeonholing people, even if it avoids the most obvious boxes--maybe that's another way of saying that we generalize and add to our knowledge as new information turns up.
    This is the reason why I deliberately disrupt the newly-forming pigeonhole when I'm introduced to new people under certain circumstances. For instance, when I'm in a dress looking all demure and somebody has just introduced me as a pastor's wife (pastor not visible at the moment), I am sometimes aware that the other person is pigeonholing me as a fourth (at least) generation pure German heritage woman who is a homebody and has no non-Christian friends, barely made it through college, and would be horrified if someone said the word "shit." If I actually care about the other person's opinion of me, I may disrupt this stereotype by a) swearing (never gratuitously, though), b) referring to our missionary service, or c) introducing my husband, who is Asian. (I'm too embarrassed to bring up the education thing, because that just isn't done socially. I have had friends disrupt that stereotype for me, though, by mentioning my doctorate when they could tell I was being consigned to the mental feather duster category.)
  • mousethief wrote: »
    EVERYBODY puts people into boxes. We can't help it. We couldn't cope with the world if we treated everybody and everything in it as sui generis. The question is, will you say "That guy is a real asshole" or will you say "Oh, he's an INTP so what I take as assholery is part of his personality." Because people will do one or the other.
    We assess and categorise, yes. It is part of our nature, yes. Do we have to make the boxes rigid or the same for every situation? No.
    Systems like Briggs-Meyers are not only inaccurate, but they also allow people to shove others into boxers and cease evaluating and learning about the person.
    Also, arsehole is not a personality type, it is a choice.
    I’ve parts of my personality that can feed my being an arse, but they do not make me be one. I make that decision. Or at least fail to make the decision to not be one.
  • Personality tests are harmful because they feed our worse natures and fight our better.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    They encourage better awareness of yourself and others which can be helpful. And the ones like the Enneagram suggest what you can do to become more rounded (in the Enneagram it is moving towards your opposite type).
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    Also, arsehole is not a personality type, it is a choice.
    It's a box. People putting people into boxes don't think "Is this a personality type or a choice?" No, they use the box system they have in their head. This comment is changing the subject.
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