Labels – The Danger of Making Assumptions About People

I find people intriguing and I enjoy trying to figure out what makes them tick (this includes myself). I celebrate our differences and it brings me joy when, while waiting for a flight or in line to pay a bill, I connect with a random stranger who I will probably never see again.

I try not to assign labels to myself or others and I try to put myself in their proverbial shoes to try to get an understanding of who they are. We are all on our own personal journey growing and evolving into different, hopefully better, people as time goes on. Labels suppress this process by placing us in particular boxes when the truth of it is that there are so many facets to each individual personality that there is no one box or label that could ever define us.

My friend Bernard and I were talking the other day about labels and how we are often misjudged because people see the persona that we present to the public instead of our true authentic selves. Realistically though, how many of us feel truly confident enough to be our authentic selves, at least most of the time, especially when in the company of those who have differing views.

When, out of curiosity, I asked him if he saw me as a shy person B thought for a moment and said he didn’t see me as shy (I immediately opened my mouth to argue) but as a reserved person. I asked him what the difference was and he said that in his mind the word shy is more about being timid while reserved is more about being cautious – my later consultation with the dictionary confirmed his definitions.

I am definitely not a timid person but I do hold back when in the company of strangers or persons that I am not comfortable with and sometimes this can be perceived as aloof when nothing could be further from the truth. I am pretty sure that choosing authenticity over reserve is the more honest option but I am also pretty sure that this is easier said than done.

I thought to myself about the people who have made this assumption about me and then I thought about the many assumptions I make about other people by just looking on and making a snap judgement. We all make assumptions about others and we have all had assumptions made about us.

The thing though is this, at the base of it, don’t you think that as humans we are more alike than we are different? I am not referring to our religion, sex, sexual orientation, colour or creed I am referring to what unites us in our humanity- our need to be safe, to be heard, understood, loved, provided for etc.

Can we really know someone just by looking at them or meeting them a couple times? Can we know their joys and fears? Can we truly know their heart? If we are afforded the opportunity to dig deep enough we would surely find that there is usually a reason why people behave the way they do and it is usually the result of how they have been socialized, what they have experienced – whether in a positive or negative way.

True connection can only take place when both people are presenting their authentic selves to the other. So next time instead of assigning a label, if we recognize that what you see is usually not everything that you get (because thankfully there is so much more) then maybe more of us will feel comfortable in revealing who we truly are.

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