We need to label and compartmentalise many things in our lives. It is how our brain works best; by cataloguing and labelling because this then allows us to understand, function and interact with the world efficiently.
For example a table' can take many forms, colours and so on, but we recognise one when we see one. Don't we? Is a chair with no back a table? We could use it as one, but we would still call it a chair, or a stool. Nevertheless, without this ability we would spend most of our time looking puzzled and not doing anything. So this ability to label and catalogue is essential to our functioning.
This is where magicians and optical illusions come into their own, because they present something that appears to be one thing, but is actually something else. Our brains make assumptions about what we see, assign all the characteristics of the object we believe we are perceiving, and are then surprised by the illusionist who appears to do the impossible with it.
The downside though is when we are dealing with people. If we label somebody, we are actually applying a relatively simple label to a person, who is very complex. In large institutional organisations, people are labelled so they can be managed, but this instantly de-humanises them and also imposes upon them all the requirements of that label, which they may not in fact need.
How many times have we seen people with medical conditions labelled? It happens all the time, and doctors may end up treating the label not the person. It also leads to people becoming institutionalised - spending their whole life around their medical conditions, when they should be living their life in spite of their medical conditions.
Labelling takes away responsibility. For example, if we label a young person as having ADD, then chances are they will start to live up to that label and it gives them as excuse. It takes away their responsibility and gives them something to blame. They will then be living their lives at Effect instead of Cause and have no control. This can only lead to a downward spiral. But there are people who function perfectly despite their label because they have chosen to ignore it, they have learned to work around it and they refuse to let it hold them back.
Let's ditch the labels and deal with the human being standing in front of us. Life would be so much more wonderful if we did, because we would be encouraging people to be in control of themselves and not at the mercy of a label.
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About Philip Gowler
Phil Gowler is a Timeline© Therapist, Hypnotherapist and NLP Coach/Practitioner based in Berkshire. His special interests are men's health, anxiety and depression, eating problems and the generally poor state of the understanding of mental health in our modern society.