Labels

“A bleeding-heart Liberal.” “A Conservative who doesn’t care about children.” “A tax-and-spend idiot.” “A callous person who doesn’t want jobs for unemployed people.”

With the elections upon us, and some pretty contentious ones going on in my home state of Massachusetts, I have become attuned to the comments, barbs and general communication going on around me. Overhearing a discussion amongst people at a local store, the comments were similar to those I posted here. We’re hearing the television newscasters, or the candidates themselves, frequently apply these monikers.

What’s the problem with this? After all, there are two parties that have grown and prospered by throwing these monikers at one another, and getting people to rally around them. Most people want to define themselves by one or the other (unless of course you are Libertarian, Green or Independent…).

The problem is the assumptions we make, the generalizations we apply and the judgments we give when someone takes a different position from us. What if we reframed these discussions to say that “that person is trying to find answers, but I don’t agree with the answers they find”? Or even, “that person does care, but I feel like they are misguided in their approach.” Wouldn’t reframing to be a bit more objective and even assuming some positive intent change our approach to dealing with other people?

Last night I ran a workshop at my local chiropractor’s office. Many of the patients there have purchased my book, and we thought it would be nice to hold a class to help people apply some of the concepts of the 5 Secrets in their day-to-day lives. There was a variety of people with different relationship issues they wanted to discuss.

One woman had a situation with a group she is associated with, where there are people who are creating some difficulty in the decision-making process. She labeled these people as “catty” or “childish” in their approach. After we looked at the situation in some detail, she could view her own culpability in the relationship and see that these people might be merely trying to get some attention, or feel that their views were heard. Perhaps the manner in which they chose to get the attention was distasteful to her, but the goal was a positive one.

When we take a broad brush and paint anyone with our judgments and negative words – be it the politician in the other party from ours, the person making our lives difficult by their style and approach, the sibling who won’t return our phone calls, the spouse who doesn’t do what we’d like them to do – we are reducing our own chances of interacting objectively and productively with those people in our lives. By creating the judgment in response to a behavior we don’t like, we actually compromise our own ability to have choice in reacting to someone else. We essentially paint them into our box and leave no room for objectivity or independence of thought in dealing with that person, or that situation.

I firmly believe that most human beings are trying to do their best, but have limited communication and relationship skills in place. Most of us don’t learn how to be good listeners, and to really understand what’s happening with another person. Our filters further compound the problem and often prevent us from seeing what’s “real”.

This week, try to refrain from using judging terms and labels when talking about someone else, and notice how often others convey a message to us colored with their judgments and their labels. We don’t have to believe everyone, like everyone, or agree with everyone we encounter, but we can be the Interested Observer seeing what’s there without rushing to label it.

I don’t know how the elections will turn out here, but I do believe that most of the candidates are well intentioned. The problems are not easy for anyone to solve, and the truth is that no one really knows the best approach to solve the difficult problems without making some other situation worse in doing so.
This week, assume positive intent for others. See if it changes your perception of what they are doing, and why.

labels