‘Labeling’ is a tool that we humans use to grapple with the complexities of life and the environments we are subject to.
In a lot of ways, it’s a good thing – it’s a cognitive ability that helps us to survive by understanding our world and quickly making sense of what’s coming our way. Is this situation friendly or harmful?
We label ourselves too, as a way of describing who we are to other people. Phrases such as “I’m looking for a job” or “I’m a freshman legislator” probably don’t do much harm although they leave out a lot of information. Perhaps they lead to a follow-up question: “What type of work are you looking for?” or “How are you enjoying your first session?”
When does a label become harmful and destructive?
The answer is … when it’s damaging, whether intentional or not.
Labeling reinforces stereotypes or misconceptions we have about people based on their label. And it can promote conflict when it might not exist.
And what’s even worse, is that sometimes we draw further conclusions based on how we have categorized someone.
What happens then?
We don’t bother to reach out or include that person because we make assumptions about them, and for them, based on a label. We exclude them.
I see this happen all of the time at the legislature – particularly when it comes to educating legislators about a bill. When time is short, the tendency is not to bother approaching certain legislators based on some sort of label. And what a short-sighted approach that can be. You might assume someone is on the ‘other side’ and that may be far from the truth.
Trust me – it’s best to ‘Table That Label.’ Don’t let it confine the possibilities.