Defeat by Label


The whole world’s in the label business. Every time we turn around, somebody’s jamming a label on us. Not those “Hi, My name is” stick-ums, Not any sort of tangible, visible label, in fact, but psychological Post-It® notes.

Even early on in life, we’re covered with labels. Sometime in our elementary school years, the labels pile up, label on label, for lack of space. By our adult years, we can get bogged down in the multitude of labels.

The good news is the labels are invisible, so we can still see where we’re going and do other necessary activities. The bad news is the labels are invisible, so we’re not aware of the burden they create or the price we’re paying.

Mom tells us we can’t do anything right. Dad tells us we’ll never amount to anything. One teacher tells us we’re slow, another that we’re a disruption. So-called friends claim we dress like a dork. And on, and on, and on. And we take all those labels in to nurture and feed so they grow up big and strong.

Strangely, we forget that Mom also said we were thoughtful, and Dad often bragged on our sports achievements. Our piano teacher crooned over our “touch.” The Spanish teacher exclaimed about our exceptional ear for languages. Somehow we decided they said those things because they didn’t really know what we were like. Perhaps they lied to be kind. Positive labels we leave out in the cold to wither and die.

We let the well-tended negative labels describe to us who we are, to build walls around us that hold us back. To sap our courage and make it almost impossible to dare. But most of all, to keep people at a distance because, we figure, they wouldn’t like us if they really got to know us.

And we don’t even know how we got to where we are–how it happened or that we allowed it to happen.

We need to clean house, to make an inventory of all the labels we accepted and separate the true from the garbage. Our emotional garbage cans will overflow as we rid ourselves of false, life-inhibiting labels.

And since we can’t change what happened in the past, we’ll understand what we can and let the rest of it go. Replacing labels with anger isn’t progress.

People make mistakes. A teacher labeled Albert Einstein, one of history’s greatest physicists, retarded. The amazing inventor, Thomas Edison, was labeled a useless dreamer. Both were too unique for their labelers to understand, and we all have uniqueness in us.

People control by criticism, especially with children. Some teachers and parents use labels to make children passive, thus easier to handle. They don’t know–or don’t care–about the damage they do. We need to realize the negativity of what they said is about them, not us.

Some people work from the fertile soil of jealousy. They use dismissive, belittling labels to drag down anybody who makes them uncomfortable. They raise destructive labeling to an art form, but no good comes out of it. It’s still not about us–except to recognize the jealousy as a compliment.

Others simply can’t see beyond their own limits. Hedged in by cramped skill sets and modest IQs, they perceive us to be just like them. Unable to see who we really are or comprehend our potential, they label us as far less than we are–and certainly less than we can be.

One more thing: This sort, dump and understand routine won’t be a one-time event. There’s something in us that keeps wanting to reclaim our labels. We’re used to them, and we feel a little lost without them. We’ll have to keep taking the garbage out until it’s gone for good. The truck comes every week, so don’t hold back.

When the old garbage is finally gone, don’t let new trash replace it. There will never be a shortage of volunteers to slap more soul-sapping labels on us, but we don’t have to let it happen. Now we know the deal about labels, we’re in control.

Repeat after me: Most of the time, what other people say about me isn’t about me.

BetteDowdell.com

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