Here is another entry in the Psychology 101 (or Life 101) series.
We are more than and different from our labels.
LABELS AND US
Any label may be more or less accurate in a conventional sense. We can agree, or disagree, about how well any particular label fits a person.
If we look, we can usually find a genuine example of how the label fits us. When I apply a label to myself, there is usually a grain of truth in it, and it’s helpful for me to find it. It helps me see that I am in the same boat as others. It helps me be less defensive in response to the label.
And just like life, we are always more than and different from any label. By exploring what a wide range of labels and stories point to in ourselves, we can taste and get to know some of the immense richenss in all of us. Our richness goes far beyond even that, which we discover when we surprise ourselves and others. Any label is a mental construct and not what it points to. And we are ultimately a mystery even to ourselves.
LABELS CAN BE SEDUCTIVE
Since labels are mental constructs, it’s easy for us to mentally focus on a label. To our mind, they appear clear-cut, simple, mentally graspable, and tangible.
And it’s easy to mislead ourselves with labels for the same reason. We may assume a label is accurate when it’s not. We may assume it tells us more about a person than it does. We may assume it’s more or less the whole picture when it’s just a tiny part. We may assume that whatever context we use is the only one, while there are other contexts that make as much or more sense and will completely shift our view.
What’s the remedy for this bias?
One remedy is to remind ourselves of the times others have labeled us and it was not accurate, or they thought it said more about us than it did. If that happened to us, maybe we are doing the same when we label others?
Similarly, what are some examples of when I labeled others or a situation and it turned out to not be accurate, or it completely missed the bigger picture?
When I label myself or others, it’s helpful to remember that it’s a guess, it’s more or less accurate in a conventional sense, the person is more than and different from any label, and I may miss an important context and bigger picture completely.
Someone says I am stupid.
I can find examples of how that’s true.
I can find it in a universal sense. What I know and understand is very limited and only a fraction of all there is to understand. The wisdom and kindness I live from is a drop in the ocean compared to the potential we have. That’s how it is for all of us.
And I can find it specifically for me. (1) Yesterday morning, my wife wanted to talk with me about something important for her, and I didn’t take it seriously and didn’t address her concerns. My response was stupid. I was in an issue, and it’s not how I wish to respond. (2) I have made decisions in life I can call stupid, especially around relationships (not exploring the ones I am drawn to, staying too long in the ones that don’t feel right) and career. (3) When I think someone is stupid (for instance, Putin, conspiracy folks), I am acting in a somewhat stupid way. I make myself more stupid than I am. I know better.
At the same time, I know it’s a somewhat stupid (!) label since it’s not very specific or helpful. There are many times and areas of life where I am not so stupid – for instance when I engage in healing and taking responsibility for my own life and behavior. I am much more than what that label points to. Any label is a mental construct and not what it points to. And ultimately, I am a mystery to myself.Read More