Letting Ourselves Down With Labels...

Our brains are always at work, attempting to make sense of the world around us. They categorize information, assign labels and titles to things, and store it all for later use; they're basically computers in that way. We understand the way things work because we use that categorization -- those labels -- to help define new experiences and interactions that we have. It's a truly phenomenal ability, and one that is an absolute gift. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most limiting things about us -- leaving a great deal of hurt, anxiety, and animosity in its wake.

I don't have to delve very far into our lives to uncover where labels hurt. Think of bullying, name-calling, and harassment, and it's pretty clear how quickly and easily the labels and categories we place others in can create antagonistic relationships. These examples are quite on-the-nose, of course, yet they're only the tip of the iceberg. When we expand those categories to include race, gender, sexual orientation, religious background, political affiliation, and a litany of others, the possibilities for negativity become endless. Of course, we heap a whole lot of positivity within labels as well; it's just very easy to use them as a direction to focus negativity. Why is that, though?

Humans have a very difficult time with what they do not understand. We have a real tendency to lash out and fear things which are different, or beyond our current capability of comprehension. We also often view the world through expectation -- the way we feel the world "should" be -- and the belief that we are right in all our values and vision, compared to others. When that expectation falls out of alignment with reality, or is flat-out wrong, significant divisiveness can occur. When we are compelled to act on and speak out against groups and individuals that reside within the categories we do not understand or disagree with, we've reached critical mass in our problem with labels.

Now, I'll not go so far as to suggest that the whole system of categorization and labeling need be torn asunder; our brains need means to understand and interpret the world around us. Rather, I suggest that we pay more attention to how we work with the labels our minds create. We must remember that a person is not defined by one or more of these categories that we've created -- they are an amalgamation of all things. Society on the whole needs assistance in being more mindful and present about the labels it creates, and sometimes forces upon large numbers of its population. Where can all this change occur, though? It begins with a single person. It begins with you and I.

When we start by recognizing we are not the labels that society, others, and even ourselves have placed upon us, we begin to transcend this mentality. Taking the time to understand another -- or even an entire group of people -- rather than being concerned only with what they do for a living, or what colour of political party they vote for is the first step in breaking down the negativity and bias that is so rampant with labels. We are unique, yet we are also all the same. Loosen the mental filing system and allow true connection and communication determine your relationships -- not pre-conceived notions based on how you've labelled others. Take the time to learn about and really listen to yourself and others -- not simply worry about the number and types of boxes we fit into.