Language is labeler-in-chief. Simply pointing to something and identifying it with a word is an act of labeling. As such, labels (however incomplete) are extremely helpful shortcuts. They allow humans to communicate about everything from nuanced physical science to emotional states and abstract ideas. Still, excessive and aggressive ideological labeling can backfire and cause deepening divides.
When Does It Help and When Does It Hurt?
With that in mind, rethink your use. Examine when labeling helps and when it hurts.
For example, in one of our workshops, two doctors started talking about the use of disease labels. They both agreed that labels could be helpful diagnostic tools but that when patients start clinging to those labels (as in “my [disease name]”), it could often backfire and prevent patients from getting better. Analytical labels were never supposed to become an integral part of someone’s identity.
In addition, look to your personal experiences. Have you ever used labels to describe another person and later found out that you were wrong? What did that feel like and how did it change your thinking? What about the opposite, that is, other people labeling you and being wrong? What did that feel like?
Obviously, there is a time and place to employ labels in our communications, but when we are dealing with ideological differences, it can be helpful to slow down, ask questions, and consider nuances rather than painting everything black and white with simple narratives and easy to apply stickers.
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister and Author
Founder of Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Ideas that promote social harmony and bridge-building across divides.
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Our mission is to train and support people who want to do good in the world. We do this by providing access to strategies, methods, and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. Our primary goal is to help others create harmony in diverse communities.
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Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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