The last weWednesday we spoke about how adjectives can emphasis a descriptor, rather than someone’s essence. The descriptor is similar to labelling people. The difference between the two is a label is how someone always sees you, and not much we do or say can change it. A label, as defined by my Mac dictionary, is a phrase or a name applied to a person or thing, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive. Many of us use labels to define ourselves or asked for a label to describe us, and yet that same label can become a bias in society or in the workplace. For example, Miss, Mrs. or Ms. – guess what I would choose?
What are the limitations of labelling?
Here is the thing about labelling people, it can hold us back, as labels are often attached to history, expectations, experiences, and possibly a bias.Labelling people, it can hold us back, as labels are often attached to history, expectations, experiences, and possibly a bias. Bust that bias. #MyContributionCounts #YouMeWeMovement Click To Tweet
I’m reminded of a weWednesday that I shared in the Explore your Why series where Yetnebersh Nigussie, Co-Founder of the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD), a lawyer and disability activist, focused on her abilities, not her disabilities. For her to change her disability label, she was on a quest to demonstrate, she was more than the label that people put upon her. She shares:
I needed to show my family and the community that I am a person that can also contribute, not only consume contributions from other people. I also need to contribute to the world.
What I am proving to others is that I can do things by myself. I can do things, not as a blind person, not as a young person, but just as a person.What I am proving to others is that I can do things by myself. I can do things, not as a blind person, not as a young person, but just as a person. Click To Tweet
This determination, sense of responsibility, and love for community participation motivated Yetnebersh to establish a school where hundreds of children that are disabled learn alongside other students, allowing all learners to feel abled.
Some parents are taking labelling children very seriously, and are choosing to raise them as gender open, giving the child the opportunity to self-explore and therefore self-identify with a gender if they decided to. You can read more about this experiment in social engineering in the Globe and Mail, an article written by Margaret Wente called The brave new age of gender-neutral kids.
Although this experiment has good intentions, of discovering an individual’s human potential, there are natural characteristics that girls and boys self-identify with, it is not all nurture, some of those characteristics are nature. The point is there is an increasing need not to be fixed into rigid social boxes, and to be recognized as circles, that roll and evolve. We are holistic individuals, and labels confine us, not liberate us.
There is an increasing need not to be fixed into rigid social boxes, and to be recognized as circles, that roll and evolve. We are holistic individuals, and labels confine us, not liberate us. #MyContributionCounts #YouMeWeMovement Click To Tweet
Labelling sexual orientation
Transgender is also a label, and I suspect many people have a bias when they meet such an individual. A friend who works with organizations focusing on how to integrate transgender peoples into organizational cultures, recently suggested if there is no self-identified transgender in your organization, then there is a good chance they won’t feel this workplace is a safe place to be authentic. We saw, and still do, experience bias with people who are gay. Although there is a large movement in many countries, many other countries have laws against homosexuality. And even within nations where it isn’t against the law, a bias persists.
Being aware of bias starts the process of removing it.Being aware of a bias starts the process of removing it. Learn how. #MyContributionCounts #YouMeWeMovement Click To Tweet
People first, not our label
We need to appreciate that we are people first, and as mentioned in the second video in the bias buster series we all have a common ground to which we can build relationships, or at a minimum, exercise tolerance.
We are not in squares but in circles. People are holistic who intersect with each other in a multitude of ways. Where we find those intersections, we have the opportunity to nurture those relationships.We are not in squares but in circles. We are holistic people that intersect with each other in a multitude of ways. Where we find those intersections, we have the opportunity to nurture those relationships. #MyContributionCounts… Click To Tweet
There is a tremendous TV2 Denmark video that emphasizes what we have in common, and once we become aware of what makes us more alike than different, we can start to break down barriers and build bridges. Beware, have a tissue on hand.
Labelling attempts to define us
Labels attempt to define us. Allowing people to authentically reveal themselves will remove us from boxes, and allow us to celebrate our unique differences. When interviewing Ela Gandhi, she shared a perspective on the world that we all can embrace:
“We should appreciate our diversity, embrace it, accept it, and then learn to live with it. Killing diversity, which is what we are doing presently, which is the worse thing that humankind has done in the last few centuries. We have decided that diversity is bad. Any diversity needs to be killed.”
And yet, the diversity of culture, sexual orientation, gender identification, religion, race, and perspectives is what makes humanity interesting. An article in the Globe and Mail titled One foot in the past, looking to the future, which was a condensed version of His Highness the Aga Khan, on the occasion of the opening of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa. He said:
“Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference. Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strengthens it. In an ever-shrinking, ever more diverse world, a genuine sense of pluralism is the indispensable foundation for human peace and progress.”
I have always had the perspective of treating people equally different. Meaning treat people as equals but respect the differences. By taking away labels, we promote the authentic person to emerge and be accepted for their uniqueness.
How to avoid labelling
In the meantime, perhaps asking people how they want to be addressed may be best. Or use ‘folks” or “friends” (although it can be a little presumptive, I’m liking the warmth and inclusiveness of friends.) But, please don’t use the label guys. I know the Oxford dictionary defines ‘guy’ as “a man,” and yet somehow the plural means “People of either sex.” Many women don’t identify with being called a guy… as for me, it is just suggesting that a term used to identify males, should also be acceptable to identify females. Don’t agree? That is ok. We are different, and that is what makes the world round not square, and therefore will continue to turn regardless of our different perspectives.
So next time you want to place a label on a person, consider consciously – is the label my way of revealing a bias? What if I just remove the label? What would people say about me? How would others feel? How would my organization be perceived? How would our relationships progress? How would my organization grow?
So, until next time, unlabel your labels and make your contributions count.
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