Fix Your Label Maker

I am a very open minded person and I love people.  People from all walks of life are what keep my life interesting and enriched. I have no requirement for those people to be or live like me to want them in my life. What really matters is that you are kind, that we connect and we accept each other for our authentic selves.  That’s it.

Am I perfect?  Hell no! I can be as guilty as the next person.  You meet someone new and based on how they look, what they are wearing or things you have heard about them, you attach a label to them. It is almost instinctive for your brain to make a snap judgment, categorize a person and decide whether they are likely ‘your type’ of person to spend time with.

The voices in my head have been especially focused on this lately. I have figured out when something keeps popping into my head over and over, it is likely worth blogging about if for no other reason than to quiet those voices.

For some reason, we feel more comfortable putting a label on people.  “Have you met Sally yet? She’s a total hipster.”  What is a hipster anyway? How does that label define what KIND of person you are? How does that tell me, really, whether we are going to have anything in common or whether we will connect?

  • Fred is gay.
  • Tina is that girl with all the tattoos and piercings.
  • Jim is one of those brainy engineers.
  • Sam is that vegan guy.
  • Anna is that one who is always dressed up and afraid to break a nail.
  • Bob is fat.
  • Ashley is a single parent.
  • Beth is divorced.
  • Jeff, our new employee is only 24.

I could go on all day listing a million ways that people will describe someone almost always using descriptors or labels that tell you nothing at all about the character of that person, what interests they have or how intelligent they are.  Yet, many will make assumptions about that person’s character based on these descriptors.

What kind of assumptions immediately pop into your head when you read the list above?  Is Jeff inexperienced because he is ‘only 24’? Does Ashley make poor decisions because she is a ‘single parent’? Is Jim an anti-social introvert because he is a ‘brainy engineer’?

Whether any of those things popped into your head or not, these are the kinds of assumptions that people make based on these types of descriptors. These assumptions can affect lives.

I have been at the receiving end of some of these labels and frankly, I don’t like it.  I have a whole lot of layers that you may or may not see depending on where you meet me, how comfortable I am with you and how much I want to reveal.  Those layers peel off over time and with familiarity and trust.  Assuming you know anything about me based on a ‘label’ is naïve at best and discriminatory at worst.

  • I wear a dress and heels almost every day and get my nails done. No, I am not a ‘Princess’.
  • I can go camping for a week in the middle of nowhere with no facilities, ride motorcycles and get dirty and I love it. No, I am not a ‘redneck’ who only listens to country music.
  • I do not have a college degree. No, I am not ‘uneducated’ and I can hold my own with the best of them in AEC along with a host of other topics.
  • I am recently divorced and have as many friends in their 20’s as I do in their 40’s and 60’s. No, I am not going through a ‘mid-life crisis’ and trying to relive my youth. (No thanks! Been there, done that, got a t-shirt!)
  • I am outspoken and not afraid to voice my opinion if I am passionate about something. No, I am not a ‘man-hating’ woman with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove. I am one of the softest people you will ever meet if you actually took the time to get to know me.

This needs to stop.

Not only are we doing ourselves a disservice when we don’t take the time to get to know somebody before we decide if they ‘fit’, we are also possibly affecting that person’s life and the environment around us.

  • Maybe Jeff who is ‘only 24’ is amazingly smart and talented at what he does. Did you just dismiss him because of his age?  Did your company just totally miss out?
  • Maybe you are a great guy who decided not to ask Ashley out because you made assumptions due to her ‘single parent’ status so she must make poor decisions. Maybe there is more to the story and maybe she was your soul-mate.  What a loss for you.
  • Maybe you didn’t bother to talk to Jim, the ‘brainy engineer’ at your last industry event because all ‘brainy engineers’ are dry and boring and anti-social. How sad for you that missed out on his wicked funny sense of humor.

Anybody who is truly honest with themselves will see some portion of personal truth here. We have all done this and will likely continue to do so. Only so much of human nature can be controlled.

That said, all I ask is that you think about it.  That you try to make more of an effort to see beyond the surface or the descriptors before you make a judgment about another person. Consciously force yourself to reach out and get to know someone that you might normally dismiss with that knee-jerk, initial assumption that they are not ‘your type’ because they are different than you.

I promise, your life and your environment will be better for it and you will most likely inspire others to do the same.

Be the change you wish to see in this world!

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