Friday, February 3, 2017

The Problem With Labels

I've been struggling with this issue for quite some time, but in the last few months it has become
more apparent than ever.  The issue is I hate labels, no not the kind you use to mail a package or sew inside your clothing, but the labels used to categorize people.  I know hate is a strong word and I try not to use it, I honestly wish there was something stronger to use  in this case as I'm not sure that hate clearly articulates how much I really, really don't like labels.

There are many words that describe who I am, either now or in my past

  • Human
  • Blogger
  • Photographer
  • Teacher
  • World traveler
  • Geek
  • Bookworm
  • Mother
  • Daughter
  • Wife

These are just a few, but none of these define who I am as a person.  They are but a small part of who I am.  All of these labels aren't the problem.  The problem is the bias and perception that rears its head when people hear a label and they automatically assume they know everything about you.

Labels bias our perceptions, thinking and behavior.  Before, you take offense bias isn't always a bad thing.  It is a natural part of human behavior. The brain is constantly looking for ways to process information.  One way to do this is to look for patterns to categorize things with labels for easy recall. The problem is there are always exception to the rule, but some people don't take those exceptions into account.   "I met one person who was a {fill in the blank} therefore everybody in this category is just like them."   How do you know from a sample size of one whether you met the rule or an exception to the rule?  

I normally try to ignore when I encounter biases based on labels, but lately it seems to be getting worse.   I am a mom.  But labeling me as a mom isn't enough I get sub-categorized as a working mom or an adoptive mom or mom of a special needs child.  Then within each of these groups there are additional labels and classifications. Each label comes with it's own unique set of preconceived notions about what that means.  

I am a female working in the tech industry.   I have held many roles including technical support, client services, sales engineer, product engineering and product marketing.   Each of these roles has required me to possess a high degree of technical knowledge.  Unfortunately when people hear my current title "Director of Product & Solution Marketing"  they assume I am not technical.  At the end of last year I had an article rejected from a publication because I am in marketing and was told in the future have somebody more technical submit an article.   I know I am technical, but I couldn't get past the label and bias associated with my title.   I will continue to encounter this bias and will continue to try to change people's perception of who I am.  

Over the past 15 years I have come to expect this type of bias at work but that doesn't make it less frustrating.  What I am more disheartened by is the pervasiveness of negative labels being used to categorize people with a difference of opinion from our own.  When did being a conservative or a liberal become a bad thing?   How have the definitions of these morphed into something unrecognizable and been turned into derogatory insults.  As soon as a word is uttered in disagreement, you are labeled as a liberal, a "libtard", a conservative, a "deplorable"  or whatever the insult of the day is.   

Broad, sweeping generalizations are damaging and don't allow us to see past a label to an individual.  And unfortunately once a label has been applied it is very difficult to get out from underneath it.   While labels are a natural way for our brain to process information, we need to work hard to ensure that the labels don't morph into damaging, negative stereotypes and a resulting lack of empathy.  

I tell my son on a regular basis that he doesn't have to like everybody he meets but he still needs to treat them with respect.   This is becoming harder to do when we seem to be constantly surrounded by negativity.  I will continue to look for the positives and the good in the world and do my best to fight my bias and see past labels.  


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great statement. Very proud of you.

Christine Shaaban said...

So well written and unfortunately so true.

daparz said...

Dawn, I am posting this meditation because this nondual thinking is an attempt to get away from the labels that you so rightly discuss. This type of thinking is very foreign to me and to most but in this piece I can see how to can get into nondual thinking. This sense of contemplation is so simple yet so hard and we all have been there on occasion and we need to learn to get there more often

Great piece, by the way.

Overtaken by Oceanic Oneness
Friday, February 3, 2017


Today’s guest writer, CAC faculty member James Finley, shares what it is like to be within nondual consciousness.
We approach nondual consciousness by means of our contemplative experience. “To contemplate” means to observe carefully, to pay attention. Throughout the day, things catch our eye and we momentarily contemplate them. In the quietness of the sustained attentive gaze, we recognize a preciousness—an immediate worth or value for which no words can do justice. And we sense this is so because the worth or value is God’s presence pouring itself out and giving itself away in and as the gift and miracle in whatever it is that may have captured our attention. Furthermore, we recognize ourselves to be one with this intimately realized experience of God pouring itself out in and as the gift and miracle of our life.
Let’s say, for example, that you go out to do some gardening. You begin in dualistic consciousness, trying to get some things done. But while you are working—in your deepening attentiveness to the earth—you are graced with a felt sense of oneness with the preciousness of the earth and the gift of life. This attentiveness brings you an experience of oneness with the earth, which in turn gives rise to a sense of your own preciousness in your oneness with that life all around you.
This experience is true for all of us. We have each had a taste of nondual consciousness: the face of our beloved, a child at play, the sound of running water, the intimacy of darkness in the middle of a sleepless night. Our lives move in and out of nondual consciousness. In these moments, we intuitively use the word God for the infinity of the primordial preciousness we, in such moments, realize ourselves to be one with. In these moments we realize that nothing is missing anywhere and what fools we are to worry so.
As I reflect on this, it dawns on me that the root of sorrow is my estrangement from the intimately realized oneness and preciousness of all things. I’m skimming over the surface of the depths of my life. Yet, I know in my heart that the God-given, godly nature of every breath and heartbeat is hidden in the ever present depths over which I am skimming in my preoccupations with the day’s demands.
So the question becomes, how can I learn not to play the cynic, not to break faith my awakened heart? In my most childlike hour, I have tasted the presence of God that is perpetually manifesting and giving itself to me as my very life. While the value of my life is not dependent upon the degree to which I realize this unitive mystery that is always there, the experiential quality of my life is profoundly related to the degree to which I am learning to live in habitual awareness of and fidelity to the God-given, godly nature of the life that I’m living.
I cannot make moments of nondual consciousness happen. I can only assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to be overtaken by the grace of nondual consciousness. Two lovers cannot make moments of oceanic oneness happen, but together they can assume the inner stance that allows them to be overtaken by the oceanic oneness that blesses their life.
My spiritual practice is to sit each day in childlike sincerity with an inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of myself just the way I am.
This is my sense of what nondual consciousness is and the contemplative way of life in which we, with God's grace, become ever more habitually grounded in it.