Democrat. Republican. Gay. Straight. Single mom. Divorced Dad. Middle class. Celebrity. Millionaire. Extremist. Loser. Athlete. Nerd. Retiree. Smart. Stupid.
Labels – we use them everywhere. Most of the time we use them to separate ourselves from others – to create a “them” and an “us.” We are right, they are wrong. We are good, they are bad. If you are Christian you are right, if you are Muslim you are wrong. If you are straight you are normal, if you are trans or gay you are abnormal. If you follow the New England Patriots you are good, if you follow the Denver Broncos there is something wrong with you. Labels show how different we are from each other in ways that don’t matter – they distract us from seeing how we are similar in ways that do matter. Labels can create judgments.
We are people, not labels
Remember that behind every label is a human – a person looking to find his or her way in life, connecting to a life that matters, to be happy, successful and to love his or her life. From our basic human nature, we share many of the same wants and desires – success, love, socialization, support, connection, fun. Without the labels (and their corresponding judgments), we are better able to focus on the shared values instead of those that somehow separate us. With this awareness of our similarities, we become more open and accepting – to seeing the distinct value in others – instead of focusing on our differences. We realize that our success in life is in our collaboration, in our learning to see the greatness in others and to work to connect all of us to what is great in us. This is how we coexist in a world that needs all of our abilities to find our way and build a world that values all of our lives.
We know we are different – it is intentional. On a planet of 7 billion people, our uniqueness is the key to our finding our own way in the world – of connecting what is best in us to the places and opportunities in our world.
Assigning labels distracts us from seeing and connecting to what is best in each us – labels can make us feel like we don’t fit, don’t belong or that there is something wrong with us. Distracted from our greatness, we show up small to our world, our lives and relationships. We hide what we don’t want others to see – we want to be normal in their definition of normal, when in fact, normal, right and good is personal. We decide this for ourselves. My normal is not your normal. It is the labels that can keep us from discovering what is great in us – and bringing it to our world and accepting ourselves as normal, right and okay as we are. It is the labels that distract us from living who we really are and building our lives around what we do and love best.
Labels can destroy our self-esteem
One simple label delivered can make us second guess who we are. We spend much of our adult life undoing the labels we took on early in life. Stupid, non-athletic, gifted, fag, genius – made us think things about ourselves that came from the judgmental perceptions of others. They said it. We heard it. We believed it. As Don Miguel Ruiz shares in his book, The Four Agreements, “The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think and thereby to create the events in your life. You can speak. The world is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic. But like a sword, it has two edges, your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. All the magic you possess is based on your word.”
What labels do you use with others – in the workplace, in life, in your political discussions, in your church, with your kids? How do these labels encourage and expand others’ view of themselves – or limit and demean them?
Babies don’t have labels – as they grow, we teach them labels. If we have been taught to use labels then we can learn to stop using labels. Simply remember how it feels to be labeled as something you felt were true or valuable for you, but that others didn’t agree with. How did this distract you from realizing and living your greatest abilities – your gifts? How did this make you rethink who you are and how you want life to be for you?
We are different – as it should be. Different isn’t bad – it’s just different. Difference creates opportunities. Learning to appreciate differences can be learned the way we learned to not value differences.
Fighting to be who you really are is a waste of energy. We should all use our energy to develop into the best version of ourselves, not to navigate around the labels and judgments from others. Look confidently in the mirror and commit to being the best version of yourself – ignore the labels. And if you find yourself labeling the world around you, notice it and commit to change.
Wisdom to help you be ready for life…