Saturday, August 29, 2009


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:)

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