Labels

We all like our labels. The negative labels that give us pause, but we love the good ones: For me, it’s: I’m confident/smart/attractive/kind/gregarious/zen/astute. When the labels align with who we believe we are, they make us comfortable and safe. What happens when someone labels us based on things we can’t control and misalign with who we actually are; say race/gender/beliefs?

We all think and act differently, so the idea of labeling one another is off putting to me. There is no way a person can look at another and tell all there is to know about him or her. Well, I thought so until “Brad” from Cairo found his way to the bar where I worked and proceeded to tell me my sign and things about my personality I thought were hidden. I never asked him how he knew, and I guess it doesn’t matter, but the difference here is that we’d interacted for a few and then he just went in with his observation.

Most people are wrong in their assessment of who I actually am. They make assumptions, and that Brad was so spot on about my personality was intriguing. We spoke further and had so much to discuss. He was interesting, fun, exciting and we literally hit it off from before the start. He was walking toward the bar and began a conversation with me as I was running some errand away from the bar.  I love those kinds of connections! I “knew” he was bar destined mid travel. I love the fact that he hadn’t labeled me one way or the other, but rather interacted first. The only “label” hew threw out was my sign well into the conversation, and he was right.

When we’re labeled without being consulted, we tend to rebel against the title. I did. I knew how uncomfortable it made my friends and sisters. I was labeled the “pretty” one. I didn’t want to be singled out and did everything in my power to not be seen. I was a very quiet child and ever observant. What I observed was that based on things outside of my control: my sisters, looks, job title, race, hair, where I lived, income and things within my control: car, hair, spouse, friends, education, there was always an opportunity to be judged by someone…positively or negatively.

There is a huge difference between judging/labeling and establishing an opinion. When you meet and interact with someone, you have an opportunity to get to know them a bit. You’ll get to know whatever it is they want you to know about them and if you’re astute enough, maybe things they’d rather you didn’t. The difference is that you interacted with that person as opposed to the judger who simply looks at you or your situation and then formulates their assessment of you having not received any personal information by way of interacting with you. The danger here is that these judgements may not be just, however, this is how people with treat you mostly based on things outside of your control.

Take for instance an old boss I had years ago. She was the manager of a different team, and we never really interacted. I didn’t have an opinion of her, but she certainly had one of me. She just didn’t like me, yet we’d never even been in a meeting together. I found out that I’d have to report to her in a shift in the business and I got to know her. She never let go of her judgement of me and it showed in my annual review. Throughout the review she made note of “how she felt about me”, noting very few facts, like how the team I was managing was performing better than my counterparts’. No, it was a personal assassination. I read it, took it back to my office and proceeded to call a meeting with her boss, my old boss and her. Needless to say, the review was stricken from my record and that moment added to the reasons she hated me, but at least she had a solid reason. If she’d taken the time to really know me, she would have concluded that I would never lie down for anything so blatantly racist (it became racist because she was in control of my raise that year).

My point is that she never once tried to get to know me and let her judgement of me cloud her integrity/professionalism/character. I don’t want this to happen to you. Especially if you’re in a position of authority. There is no place for pre-judgement/prejudice or racism in corporate or anywhere else for that matter. Think about it.

Leave a comment