Sunday, August 30, 2009

self-labeling

In my last post I talked about labeling. And you may think to yourself,"I don't label others".That may be true and that is great, but what about labeling yourself? Self-labeling can be just as destructive, and is more insidious because we often fail to see it. Some labels are simple and harmless. If you root for a particular sports team, you are considered a fan on that team. I root for the Portland Trailblazers (NBA) so therefore I consider myself a Trailblazer fan. I was born in the US so I am an American.

Some are more fuzzy - depending on your stands on the issues of the day you may consider yourself liberal, conservative, libertarian, independent,etc. It may help you sort out the huge amount of data, information sources, groups, etc that we have access to in the information overload society we live in.

It is okay to a point to self-identify yourself with a label, but there is a danger. You will change over time and the label you may wear today may or may not apply later on in life. You may feel that you must not change some view or other because it will not conform with the label you wear (or conform to what someone else might think that label means). You and your beliefs are more than just some label. Static behavior and belief tend to stifle life.

There is another danger in self-labeling. The self talk that we do can limit ourselves - we can call ourselves names that are judgmental. We don't always say them out loud, but we think them. Ever catch yourself saying "I'm dumb", "I can't do this",or "I am a failure"? That is self-labeling and self-judging and it can sometimes do more damage to our self image than any hurtful comment by another. It can paralyze our lives.

That doesn't mean that we should not recognize and admit when we were wrong. To deny obvious wrongdoing is just as bad. But there is a vast difference between saying "I was wrong" and "I am wrong", between saying "that was a stupid thing to do" and "I am stupid".

And I think we find that the more we avoid self-labeling ourselves the more we can avoid labeling others. It is no wonder that Jesus said that one of the two greatest commandments of God was "love your neighbor as yourself"...if you can't love (value) yourself, how can you love (value) your neighbor?". You were created, I believe, in the image of God. And that Christ gave His life to save your soul. That gives you inexhaustible worth in the eyes of God. Live in the truth of that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

labeling

Labels can be handy things. Think about all the cans on the grocery store shelves. How do you know what to buy? You look at the label and search your mind to find a match with things you like and need. If there is no match you move on , if there is a match, you buy it. You don't have to open the can, test the contents, or do anything but pick it up and put it in your cart. The label has saved you time and energy for other tasks. You rely on others to make sure that the food is safe and palatable, you just shop.

But the very things that make labels helpful on food, make them toxic to relationships. Dealing with people fairly and justly is not like shopping. You don't acquire friendships , you grow them. You build them with time and energy. You have to get to know what goes on below the surface - inside the can , so to speak. All too often we deal only with surface, make up our opinions on just what we can see, and rely on simplistic "group" characterizations, rather than get to know individuals. You have to spend the time and energy.

How do you know if you are labeling? If you find yourself using such words as always, never, all , none, every, about a particular group then you may be labeling. Certain things may be common to a group, like all Baptists are religious, but others may not be ...not all Baptists frown on jazz music. I happen to know, because I was raised a Baptist (Heinz 57 varieties and all). Other things used to categorize groups involve making moral judgements and those are the worst kind of labels. From that comes prejudice, hate, and ultimately violence.

How do you overcome labeling? The same way you expand your taste palate. You try new things, meet new people. Listen (smell) and talk to (taste) people from groups you don't normally associate with or see as different. You might not always come to appreciate them, just like not everything you taste is pleasing, but at least you have expanded your world a little. And remember, not every one will agree with you, but you can respect them. I have tried limburger cheese (my grandfather loved it) and haggis. I like the haggis and have sampled it again. The limburger I will leave to others. But at least I know what both taste like.

Don't put people on the shelf through labeling. It isn't right, it isn't fair, and it only leads to division and discord. And you shouldn't label yourself...but that is fodder for another post:)

Friday, August 14, 2009

comfort zones

What is your comfort zone, and have you stepped out of it lately? We all have spaces, not just physical places but mental ,social,emotional,spiritual, etc, that we feel comfortable with. We grow up in families and communities with certain characteristics - be it beliefs, manners, expectations, likes and dislikes. We develop a sense of home, a place to feel safe. We all need that. But then we go to school and we learn often that not everyone is like us. Not everyone shares the same likes and dislikes. Not everyone has the same personality and not everyone has the same beliefs. And you have to adapt, accept those differences, while retaining a strong sense of who you are. You don't have to become someone else because of it, but it will change you, perhaps modify who you are.

For example, my parents were married till the day my mom died-30 plus years. I thought that was the norm. Then I came to know many people whose parents did not stay married, for one reason or another, and many who for one reason or another did not themselves stay married. I came to appreciate more the advantages I had had growing up with two parents always there, always in love , always showing love to me and my sisters. I became more understanding and compassionate towards those who hadn't had that and to those who had tried and failed to keep a marriage together. (it takes two, you know). I am happily married and plan to stay that way, but I do not judge those who have not.

I have known people who are stuck in one place in their lives. They are committed to not changing so much that they live in fear of it. That is part of the reason for the anger being seen today in the healthcare debate. There are legitimate concerns, and then there is fear from things unfounded. There are those who use people's fears to sway them to a particular viewpoint. They lie and deceive. It is important to check your sources, think clearly, ask questions. But it is important to be open to change. Life is change. It doesn't mean you have abandoned anything, least of all what you believe. It means you are growing.

I am a gardener and I love to see what comes up in each season. There are things I have deliberately planted and then things that just pop up out of nowhere. Some things grow very well and others don't. Some things grow well for a while and then fade away. I had a couple rosemary bushes that grew like gangbusters, to about 3-4 ft high and wide. I have a picture of them in their prime, and remember the tiny blue flowers and the luscious aroma released by running my hands along the branches. Unfortunately they were decimated by a couple winters of hard frost, so they are no more. Life and the garden goes on. Perhaps I will get another, perhaps not. But I also have hollyhocks that are now advancing into the lawn. I accept the change and revel in the surprises I see every season.

Some want their lives to be neat and tidy, not a leaf out of place, no surprises (they fear surprises because they think only bad comes that way). Some people believe that they must live by strict do's and don't's, otherwise God will be displeased with them.I believe that God wants us to enjoy life, not just manage it. Jesus said He had come to give us abundant life. But you have to come out of your comfort zone to do that. I did that recently by going to a townhall meeting on healthcare. Half of the people I encountered were friendly to my points of view. The other half were either in disagreement or were hostile to those views . It was not always comfortable, sometimes tense, but a learning experience. You should try it.

Life is a garden, enjoy it ,accept it, keep growing.