Labels are very useful things.

They help us to identify and categorise things, events and people in our everyday world. And for those memory-challenged moments, the label of last resort “thingy” comes in very handy.

Where they often start to fail us is when it comes to ourselves and other people. We become defined by our labels, and often we have trouble seeing beyond them.

This happens quite regularly in the work environment, where middle managers in particular become blinded to someone’s potential beyond the boundaries of their job title. For instance, how creative would you expect an accountant to be?

During our lifetimes we acquire and go through many labels, such as muslim or hindu, girl then woman, single then married, athletic or a couch potato, good person or thief etc.

This phenomena seems to be partly due to our mental filters which we need to use to navigate the world and partly a result of simple mental laziness on our part.

Mental filters are entirely necessary to functioning efficiently (as outlined in NLP literature), as we wake up in a morning we need to know without thinking what a bed is, what to eat for breakfast, what clothes are for, who our family are etc.

The problem is that this short-hand way of thinking tends to get hard-wired and seldom updated. So we can mistakenly believe all Catholics are good, accountants can’t dance, we procrastinate too much or artists are disorganised and so on.

Fortunately, life has a habit of sending someone to us who contradicts our neat labels, and invites us to loosen them up, wake up and to begin thinking again.

© David R. Durham

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