Labeling other people as “that one thing” may make sense from a purely instinctual point of view. But does it meet the spiritual and human requirements of Compassionate connection?
The Importance of Labels
I have a garden. Or, at least, I have something that really, really wants to be a garden… it just doesn’t look like it really, really wants to be a garden. To anyone else, I’m sure it looks like a jumble of haphazardly sewn plants, half of which are laying on their side or getting kind of brown from the intense sun and heat of the Tennessee summer.
I do water them, but I’m convinced they’re all just spitting that water back out!
I’m describing the veggies that actually sprout, by the way. Most of my seeds just don’t even try. Between them and the lazy-looking bean stalks, cucumber stems and cabbage… things… I’m at the point where I think my garden has a death wish.
“No plant’s land”. That’s what I should call it.
I swear there’s Love there… it’s just not easy to see.
But despite all of this, every now and then I get something out of this rag-tag-looking garden. More often than not it’s the herbs, which I pluck, dry, crush into little tiny pieces and store in 4 oz. mason jars. Oregano, cilantro, parsley, and – my favorite – basil.
It may seem a silly and obvious thing to say, but labels are kind of an important thing. Without them, I could just as well be pulling out a mason jar full of poison and I wouldn’t know until I’d eaten a slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta that was full of it.
Hey, I might just be that dumb.
We do this labeling thing with other human beings, too. We pluck out their most important characteristic – as we each individually perceive it – and, in doing so, categorize people into different bins so that we know how to deal with them.
This makes a lot of sense, too, particularly if you go all the way back to hunter-gatherer days. Everything then was about survival. We needed to know who to trust and who to be wary of. We needed to know who could back us up when the shit hit the… fern…? And who was most likely to be throwing that poo.
It even makes a bit of sense today, if you think about it. No, we aren’t all trying to survive in a pack with a stick and a loincloth, but we are trying to navigate a 24/7 society that leaves us little time for anything more than simple labels. Threats still abound, but they’re not quite the same as they once were.
Connecting The Dots of Disconnection
This kind of threat assessment is a rather instinctual, animal thing. Don’t get me wrong – it’s real… or at least we perceive it as such – but much like how we’ve allowed the concept of worry to get out of control as we’ve evolved, we’ve let this idea of labels – labels based on one characteristic – develop to the point where it has started to erode our sense of connectivity and humanity.
That “humanity” part is important. Because what makes us human is our spirit. It’s that spiritual part that isn’t animal and isn’t instinctual. It’s thoughtful, empathetic… it yearns for connectivity. And that’s because – as spiritual beings – we were created by God.
Connection doesn’t happen when you label someone as one thing and throw them in a bin that categorizes them as “that one thing”. In fact, the opposite happens – you disconnect from that person.
This happens most often with people we’ve categorized as “that one thing” we don’t like (and I’ll get to that in a moment). But, believe it or not, it happens with people we’ve categorized as “that one thing” we like too. So you’ve assessed them as “safe” – or, more accurately – someone who is in agreement with you… someone who supports your worldview. If you’re not digging any deeper, you’re still quite disconnected.
How is this in line with the concept of Compassion?
Labeling people as “that one thing” – particularly that thing you don’t like – is facilitated by your confirmation bias, which is also a kind of “threat assessment”. The problem with this particular kind of “threat assessment”, however, is that it’s largely a fantasy, thrust upon you by your own life experiences, and further massaged by people with power – politicians, special interests, the media.
The tighter you cling to that confirmation bias, the more likely you’re going to label anyone who isn’t a part of your accepted world view as “the enemy”. This is exactly what people with power want. Divide and conquer. As long as we’re hating each other for no good reason and doing our damndest to disconnect from each other… we’re not leaving those who seek to control us with much work to do, are we?
Don’t Give “That One Thing” Permission
I’d be willing to bet you’ve had plenty of people label you as “that one thing” too. It’s easy to point out the people you may now see as “enemies” because of this.
But what about the power players? How many have labeled you as “that one thing” (as if that were the only important part of who you are) and then promised to defend it… y’know… in exchange for your vote, perhaps?
When you think about it that way, it’s hard to tell who the enemy really is, isn’t it? Is it the one who says they have your back but really only knows you by “that one thing” that gives them control? Or is it that other one who says she doesn’t like you because of “that one thing” but, as it turns out, has been just as victimized by her own supposed allies as you have been by yours?
This whole notion of control and confirmation bias may seem pretty crazy. I get that. But what I’m trying to illustrate here is the importance of actually knowing people – knowing them beyond just one label, or “that one thing”. It’s just as important to see beyond someone else’s “that one thing” as it is for someone else to see beyond yours.
And it’s extremely important to understand how you might use that against others, and how others might use that against you (even when it seems they’re doing the opposite).
Don’t give “that one thing” permission to define you. Don’t give anyone else that opportunity to control you.
And as difficult and even distasteful as this is going to sound, do the work of helping others learn that they don’t have to give anyone that permission either.
The best way to show them how that works is to start with you. Be that little Light – let them know they are being seen for more than just “that one thing”.
That’s how you turn would-be enemies into allies.
The Right To Dislike Others
You have the right to dislike another human being for whatever reason you choose to dislike another human being.
“I don’t like Samantha because she smells.”
“I don’t like Tom because he talks too much.”
You don’t like this person over here because she’s a Conservative.
You don’t like that person over there because he’s a Liberal.
You don’t like so-and-so because they’re Trans, or this other so-and-so because they’re straight…
It’s okay. You have the right.
Shame though, because every single human being on this planet is loaded with a million other complex and interesting things that make up who they are.
You have the right to like another human being for whatever reason you choose to like another human being. Seems to me as though, for every single human being on this planet, you have a million possible options to choose from.
I kinda like those odds!
So the question is… what’s stopping you?
When have you caught yourself labeling other people as “that one thing”? Why do you think you’ve done that? Do you see where it’s possible that “that one thing” is so small a part of who they are that there might be other characteristics that are worth exploring? What was your big takeaway from this article? Share your thoughts and experiences below!
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