Labels are an intrinsic part of how human beings make sense of our world. But, reducing people or situations to categories falsely convinces us that we understand our unknowable universe. Labels are, and have always been, the great separator. At work and out in the world, labels are often used to make uninformed snap judgments. Communication laced with labels influences the way we interpret and internalize our experiences. Once we land on a clever word or phrase that we believe captures our assumptions, we shut down and move on – believing we have it all figured out. The truth is, at that point, we actually know very little, and we have ended or severely limited our willingness to receive new information.
Now, more than ever, it is important to avoid taking the easy way out by accepting labels as truth. As we evolve and the knowledgeable continue to dig deeper into what we think we know, we’re reminded regularly that we still have much to learn. This notion goes beyond science and academics. It’s part of how we live our lives every day.
Open your mind to better understanding by noticing how you use labels. Do you make sweeping generalizations to explain complex issues? Do you accept, without question, labels used by people you respect? Do you blindly agree with labels that reinforce your perceptions? Do you feel comforted when you can place people or situations into a neatly wrapped package? Or do you look for exceptions that poke holes in sweeping arguments and remain open to the multiplicity of existence?
Even the most open-minded can benefit from broadening their view of the world. Once you become more aware of how labels shape your understanding and actions, use your brain’s enormous capacity to look beneath the seemingly similar. Resist the urge to place a period at the end of today’s story – today’s understanding of your world. This will open your mind to the history and triggers on both sides of any issue.
Like snowflakes, every person and every situation is unique. We have within us the ability to treat them that way.