Sunday, January 20, 2008

Attaching Labels to Things

I was talking to someone just the other day about how foolish it is to attach labels to things, people, or situations as good or bad. Once that’s done, everything else that follows tends to be colored by that same brush. If we do that, we might miss a richness of learning, of forming a relationship or exploring the possibilities of a situation that we’ve already dubbed ‘bad’. It really is a foolish thing as what happens in those cases is we filter out everything that might stretch us and help us learn and grow. The ultimate result is we create walls around us that keep us in our own comfort zone and don’t in any way rock the boat of our life.

I look at all the people I meet through the course of the day, at every level of responsibility, and how knowing them and having conversations with them enriches my life exponentially. It’s not about their job or position, it’s about who they are as human beings.

When I led a workshop way back when in my training days, I asked the people in the room to stand in a circle and look around the room to see who the other participants were. This group would end up with buddies through the training so I wanted to see who they would want to pair up with. Human nature is to judge someone by their cover so to speak and to gravitate to the one person you feel you would be the most comfortable with. That wouldn’t have served my purposes at all. So I asked the group to look around and silently choose the person they would want to work with, for superficial reasons only of course as they didn’t know each other. I then told them “After I give you the next set of instructions, I want you to walk over to the person you’re going to choose for whatever your reasons are, ask them to be your partner for this training and then stand next to that person. If someone else reached that individual before you, then choose another."

To tell you this is chaotic is an understatement but there is a method to my madness. I then told the group to walk up to the person in the room they thought would be the one who would stretch them the farthest, the one who would be completely out of their comfort zone. So for example if a woman tended to gravitate to a woman, then she should choose a man and visa versa, or if a person with a scruffy beard intimidated you then choose that person. I wanted those in the room to choose people they don’t often interact with because of a pre-judment or label. The first lesson was to not attach a label on a person without knowing them. Most of the group told me that was the best lesson they learned over all; how they tended to ignore whole groups of people by virtue of how they looked --- a prejudgment.

What or who have you attached a label to where you’re not quite sure why you did in the first place? What would happen if you let go of that judgment?

Should be fascinating to find out, don’t you think?

Donna Karlin

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