How much damage are we doing to ourselves and those around us, when we rely on mental shortcuts known as “labels”? Labels are important, as they are what we use to put things into categories, in order to facilitate understanding. Often, though, instead of helping us to understand, labels cause us to make a mental checkmark in an imaginary box – and then stop thinking, altogether.
Labels can become the ultimate in lazy thinking. How many kids in the world have been called “slow learners” or even “learning disabled” when their only problem was teachers who lacked specialized education, or parents who didn’t recognize genius when they saw it? How many people hear the words, “You have a fatal illness,” and simply resign themselves to die?
There are a great many religious and political labels being thrown around these days, but how much individual research has actually gone into understanding these labels? How many so-called “conservatives” see others as either comfortably like themselves or as “liberals” and utterly foreign. This business of “red” states and “blue” states from U.S. media is a prime example of how labels tend to do nothing more than confuse and confound, throwing blanket labels on millions of individuals. Any talk radio station provides excellent examples of people who rely on labels rather than take the time to think for themselves.
What labels have you accepted for yourself? Where did they come from? Is there another way of looking at negative labels to turn them into positive attributes? If you think of yourself as lazy, what will happen if you change that to “relaxed?” How about interpreting stubbornness as persistence, weirdness as charming eccentricity, and fear as concern?
You see, it is important to avoid labels that chip away at self-esteem and equally important to be highly skeptical of terms that pigeonhole others, as well as the people who use these terms. These mental shortcuts leave us all short-changed – the labeler and the labeled. Become sensitive to the words you use to describe yourself and your relationships.
Words have tremendous power, both internally and externally. If you make them as positive as possible, you will find that your experiences tend to reflect the upbeat tone of the language you are using.