Labels: How They Cloud Our Judgment

President. Police officer. CEO. Pastor. Janitor. Actor. Friend. Dishonest. Generous. Lobbyists. Girl Scouts. Dog lovers. Black. White. 

All of the words you just read are used to describe individuals – or entire groups of people. Behind each of these labels lie actual people. Human beings, no different than you or I. 

I’d like for us to take just a moment and consider something. Consider how, when presented with information tied to these labels, we often formulate our opinion of the matter before we even know the full extent of the information. Here’s an excersize that should help illustrate my point. 

Think of the tone, as well as your immediate reaction, to the following sentences: 

“So I left the bar around 11:30. It was dark, and I was walking down the alley to my car when I saw this black guy start walking towards me…”

“So I left the bar around 11:30. It was dark, and I was walking down the alley to my car when I saw this pretty girl start walking towards me…”

Now I could follow up either of those statements with any scenario under the sun, but that’s not the point. My point is the harsh truth that I would guess the majority of us have a negative predisposition to statement #1, while we likely have a neutral, or even positive, predisposition to #2.

An extreme example? Possibly. But the point remains – labels are destroying the dialogue. Our tendency to label people and groups causes a massive disservice to the individuals that represent the labels. This one-sided method of thinking has created a culture where we already have our opinions made before we even give people the opportunity to prove us wrong. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not innocent of this myself. I think it’s human nature, as we all seem to have biases of one sort or another.

So frequently do we have expectations of people when we prescribe a label to them. We often forget that, as aforementioned, behind these labels lie real, flesh and blood average human beings.

The goal, in my eyes, should be awareness. If we want to change the status quo of today’s environment, we need to be aware of our biases and work to transcend them. If we can’t do this successfully, we’ll never be able to reasonably expect change, racial or otherwise.

Just a thought.

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