When we label people in our thoughts and conversations, we remove them from our basic connection as fellow human beings. If I label a group by their religion, or race, of gender, I add a whole layer of “garbage” on top of it. I add beliefs I’ve inherited. One experience may have translated into a generalization of the whole. That dehumanization separates us and we cannot heal until we remove it.
What do you label?
When you begin to label groups, you dehumanize them. They’re no longer people but a collection of your own fears, beliefs and misunderstandings. Labeling is extremely distancing and divisive.
It’s easy to label a group. I, unfortunately, am not fond of old people, although at 84 I’m definitely one of them. That probably doesn’t give me the right to be judgmental and I need to look at that. My general experience is that old people have given up and are no longer trying to be relevant in the world.
Of course, there are exceptions. I’m one of them. And I have to go online to find other exceptions. There’s a lot of personal judgment in my label of “senior.”
In my 40’s, I went back to college to get my Master’s degree in theater, so I’ve had a lot of gay friends in my life. I remember standing on a stage in a park with my friends when a group of straight men came into the general vicinity. I could feel the fear coming from my gay friends. I hadn’t experienced the same discrimination that they had, but I could definitely feel the fear. Nothing happened. There was just the awareness of my friends that they could be in danger.
I learned a lot from my gay male friends that enhanced my life and that of my family. One of my major takeaways was to realize that they all knew how to cook and clean and care for themselves because they would never have a wife to do that for them. So I taught my own sons how to cook and clean and do their own laundry. They make great roommates and partners.
Get to know the group you fear
I think fear is a big part of what keeps us separate. I remember sitting in my office in the Public Theater in New York City. I glanced out in the hall and saw a group of young black men who were going to put on a play there. They were simply talking among themselves. I realized that I felt fear and said so to myself. My co-worker quietly said, “Shut the door.” And when I turned I realized I had spoken out loud and that my companion was my friend and he was also black.
See how these unvoiced and unidentified prejudices sneak up on us?
When I was training to become a spiritual practitioner, there were many very strong women moving along the same path. It took me a while to realize that much of the strength I admired came from them being lesbians and, like their male counterparts, they had developed into strong, self-sufficient people, a quality I very much admire.
Get to know people in the groups that seem frightening to you
I don’t know people with very diverse backgrounds. There’s a bit of a mix in this senior community but the whole county is predominately middle-class white with a lot of affluent professionals, outstanding schools and a liberal approach to life. But this is Kansas. The population is organically not very diverse. So I’m faced with the challenge of finding interesting people from different heritages. I have to find a way to do that online.
I do find people from all over the world connecting on the world peace calls I join and some of the spirituality-based events I attend online. Our diverse backgrounds are simply part of the worldwide power when we are focused on the same cause. That in itself is a lesson in how to eliminate a label. Focus on our similarities.
The key, of course, is to get to know them as people — not groups, not labels — but fellow human beings on our planet home.
Get to know the stories of people in the groups you’re labeling
On the news I heard of a young professional couple who left their home in Syria and walked for ten days to get to the border and safely. Can you imagine what it would feel like to make that decision, to begin that trip and have no idea what the outcome would be?
Another Syrian refugee family was relocated to a town in the US where they were fundamentally isolated, not because people were unfriendly, but because the culture they encountered was so strange to them. They have no support system in this country. They’re on their own. What kind of labels do they have for us? Do they lump us into a category by the color of our skin, our beliefs, our actions?
When we remove labels we find our sameness
We’re all humans. We would like to survive. We would like to be loved. We would like to love. We would like to be productive and valued. That’s all you need to know when you start to label someone — we’re all part of the web of life. We’re all made from the Great Nothingness. We’re the same. We’re one energy, from one source.
Look for our sameness and the differences will disappear.
To Sing a Deeper Song consider:
The 50/50 split
How To keep Negativity Out of Your Life
How Do You Nurture “Different”
46 -How the People You Hang With Affect Your Life
45-How to Become a Mindful Presence