Whore, Bible Thumper, Genius, Athlete, Leader, Fatty, Narcissist, Cheater, Homo, Coward.
They won’t disappear. You and I will be labeled regardless- and as much as we say we don’t like it, we will label people too. We are human, it’s what we do.
Our Mental Shorthand
Labeling is a just a tool that humans use to resolve and categorize the complexity of the environments, objects, and people we perceive. We use labels as a frame of reference. It’s actually one of our brilliant ways of adapting and surviving in a world that isn’t always safe and often difficult to understand.
It would be impossible to catalog the information we process during our lives without the aid of labels like “friendly,” “deceitful,” “edible” and “harmful.”
The nature of labels is not intrinsically good or bad. They are like big virtual boxes we can toss things into so we know where to find them at a later date. At the same time, it’s important to recognize their limitations. Those boxes are generalizations, so we should never assume we have captured the complete essence of all it’s contents until we take each thing out and examine it for ourselves.
Labels aren’t the problem.
We can’t manage our own mind…that’s the problem.
How many times have we been advised to change our language to something more PC in an attempt to not offend, discriminate, or imply judgment? For example; My late brother was born with down syndrome. From the age of 5 to 39, the PC language to reference his chromosomal count changed far too often, that I eventually saw it as ridiculous. Downs, mentally retarded, mongoloid, mentally handicapped, challenged, cognitively disabled…then in 2010 Obama signed a bill that replaced “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policy. “Intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” were inserted in their place.
The aim was to limit potentially hurtful language…sounds good to me! The Global Down Syndrome Foundation/Advocates seemed satisfied, stating these terms are “accepted as appropriate by the community” BUT. (they add)
For the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, we like to take it a step further and talk about our community as “differently-abled.”
Listen, I am in full support of anything that serves the common good. I flat out hate ignorance and intended harm. But I equally detest the unremitting hair-splitters of society who remain dissatisfied despite the fulfillment of their request.
“Differently-abled?” How delicate and completely deluded have we become? Differently-abled will remain the preference until enough people start using it in a condescending way as a term used to imply that a normal-abled person is behaving, appearing or conceptualizing as if they are disabled.
How do I know this will happen? Because it always has. Marcus Tullius Cicero, born in 106 BC said,
“Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”
This sentiment is old as dirt, yet the struggle is still the same. It’s called The Human Condition.
You, me and everyone else are walking this planet trying to figure out how to manage, shape and understand our own existence. We aren’t born knowing how to do any of this…how to deal with morality issues, conflict, emotions, death, hate, evil, betrayal. Some of us think we are here by divine assignment- that our reason for existing was predetermined before we took our first breath, by an all-seeing, all-knowing creator who has already written the rules and code of conduct. Some of us believe in a different creator with a different set of rules. Some of us feel the cause of our existence is completely random and we make our own rules, while others are studying the stars to find out who they are.
The questions; What is true and what is right, have been up for debate through all of history. Each of us is born into this, with the addition of, “Who Am I, among all of this?”
With the many conflicting beliefs and all things up for question, the best we can do is this:
Learn to think for ourselves and define who we are based on our own good judgment and reason.
There is a battle to be fought here, but it’s one of personal responsibility and emotional integrity. It’s the hardest battle to take on, but the only one that will stand a chance against the detrimental effects of labeling.
STEP 1: ACCEPT
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
Here is a full dose of reality. There will never be a PC language that pleases everyone. Bias will always exist, people will never stop judging you, and unfairness and cruelty are embedded into life. If you can accept that, you’ve taken a huge step in the right direction. This isn’t an act of submission or defeat- it’s a characteristic of maturity and wisdom.
The mature person is able to lift the veil of delusion to see things as they are and the wise person knows what is his to manage and what isn’t.
STEP 2: Use the CORRECT acronym
This is written as if you are the one dealing with a label that feels unfair or inaccurate. Whether the label is self-imposed or handed to you by someone else, it’s your job to interpret it and decide on the power it has. This same process can be applied before you label someone too.
CONSIDER. Put all things up for evaluation without the veil of delusion or emotional hijack. Is this accurate? Did any of my actions warrant this label? Is this true all of the time, some of the time or neither? What do I know about the person who labeled me? Is this a fact or interpretation?
OWN. You are the only person who can decide who you are, who you aren’t and who you want to be. As uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes we are handed a label that has a bit of truth to it. For instance, if you have been repeatedly told by different people that you are “selfish” it might be a clue you’ve got blinders on and need to look at yourself more clearly. On the other hand, there may be something you tell yourself that is either self-limiting or extremely over-glorified. (Such as, “I am unlovable” or “I am always honest.”) In either case, after putting all things up for questioning (above step) own what is yours to own.
REJECT. If the label doesn’t fit, disregard it as useless and move on. If it fits some of the time, own that part of it and reject the rest. If you don’t like it, change your behavior so you can rightfully reject it in the future. Note: you will know if you have truly rejected something when you don’t feel a need to defend it or question it anymore.
REPRESENT. This has everything to do with stepping up to the plate and matching your actions to who you say you are. Our behaviors and actions are a direct representation of how we have chosen to identify ourselves. If you are unsure of what you believe about yourself, observe your own behavior and then work backward.
For example: We all know what a confident person looks like. They carry themselves with ease and grace. They don’t require validation from others, but they do ask for feedback when they need it. If Sally tells herself she is confident and beautiful, but she constantly seeks attention and validation from others….Sally is not confident.
EXPECT. Despite all of your best efforts, expect that you will be mislabeled from time to time anyway. Your only job is to do your job, which is to manage what is in your control. Other people’s opinions don’t fall into your realm of control.
COMMUNICATE. Typically, the labels that hurt the most are the ones given by those we have deeper bonds with. If this is the case, opening the floor up for honest and healthy communication can often clear the air. One thing to note; this only works when both people understand the purpose and parameters of healthy communication and are able to own their “stuff.”
TEACH. Humans are the most imitative creatures in the world; meaning that much of our behavior, beliefs, and responses are learned by mimicking the behaviors, beliefs, and responses of those around us. The well-known saying, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” is representative of this. Want to change the negative effects of labeling?
BE the change first by knowing how to accept or reject labels and how to become a self-determined, rational human being. Then let the world mimic you. If you see someone who’s still fighting the wrong battle, help them armor up for the one they can actually win.
Originally published at www.janelleteta.com.
Originally published at medium.com