I’m filthy rich! or I’m so poor!
I’m sick! or I’m uber-healthy!
I hate him. He’s mean. and She’s so nice.
They’re all just words, or more precisely, just labels…
But then again, perception is reality.
One day that ‘nice’ girl had just received some news from her home inspector that she had mold in the walls in her home. It was going to be very expensive to tear the up the walls and correct the issue. The call came just after she left an already trying day at work. She had been walking around with a brown stain on the front of her shirt since she spilled scalding coffee down her chest earlier that day.
Normally this young woman smiles at everyone. She exudes positivity and projects proverbial sunshine on all those she connects with; not so much today.
Every now and again even the most amicable people are entitled to lean into their negative emotional pull. There’s nothing wrong with this girl putting on her headphones as she runs into the supermarket to grab her groceries on her way home. She has the right to forget her label as the ‘nice’ girl, and just ignore the world.
Does it make her not a nice person?
In that moment, yes.
She is not nice, but she is not mean either.
The truth is, she was never a nice person. That’s just an overly-simplified label based on the perception of others, or her perception of herself. Indeed she acts nice. Not an act as in pretending and make-believe; it’s an act as in the verb, an action.
Human beings are so much more than one action or emotion, yet we allow ourselves, as well as others, to label us as such.
We are controlled by the labels we place on things.
Labels are humanity’s lizard-brains attempting to make sense of the world as they perceive it.
A person may assess their life. They may notice a lack of money and luxuries, or even a lack of food and other necessities, and decide that they are impoverished.
The same person may understand that while they are financially broke, at the same time they can recognize that by having loving family and friends and their good health, they are indeed very well-off.
The first is simply self-victimization and a negative sense of oneself. The second is different. It is a way of affirming positivity, regardless of the individual’s circumstances.
Affirmations, such as this one, will not on their own change a person’s situation, but they will help direct one toward a better path. It’s the difference between walking around with shoulders hunched, frowning at everyone, versus standing up straight, looking people in the eyes and smiling at them. There is incredible power in each.
Despite my own awareness of the dangers of labels, I often fall victim.
Those who have known me for more than a few years, as well as those who have read my work, are aware that I have undergone a significant amount of weight-loss. (1)
Although I am currently at a place where I am satisfied with my physical being, I still look in the mirror and see myself as the fat person I was for the first thirty-some-odd years of my life. I know I am not fat. Yet, I did spend so long giving precedence to that label I had for myself, today I still struggle to acquire a new internal paradigm.
Through the process of daily affirmations and consistent calibration I am learning and reprogramming myself to see me differently.
I’m learning to recognize contradictions and falsehoods everywhere—in myself, as well as in the world.
Another area I’ve recognized unhelpful labels in my own life is in my perception of my social self.
I’m a talker. I have a big mouth. At least that’s how I’ve come to perceive myself over my lifetime. When I reflect on past interactions and experiences with others I see how I allowed the label to fit. I talked myself into many corners and placed many stinky feet directly into my mouth. Additionally, I’ve talked myself out of countless opportunities and friendships as well.
I’ve always told myself That’s just the way I am! It was never true though. It was just my self-programmed perception of my reality. Once I began to remind myself to slow down and listen before I respond, I met a whole new me. My personality was capable of being so much more—or less—than I had perceived myself as being.
In the world I see labels in the news and in the media. I see it in the divisive nature of politics and sports. I see it in our propensity to need things separated into genres and groups. It’s in things as small as the foods we enjoy or detest. It’s as large as the experiences we seek, as well as those which we avoid.
These labels give birth to hatred, discrimination, ignorance, and, most especially, close mindedness.
I want to judge a person’s worth, not by mine or someone else’s feeble-minded perception of them, but instead by their actions and how they carry themself. I plan to consider the times I’ll say no. I know I may just be holding out for no reason at all, aside from my own broken labeling of things I don’t know or truly understand.
Here’s a final word of warning regarding recognizing and correcting our tendencies to label things.
With self-affirmation and deprogramming/reprogramming oneself, there is a risk of detrimental effect if one goes too far in the opposite direction. A fresh outlook should remind people how to act, not how to define oneself or others.
Failure to remember this, or to consistently calibrate, will lead to new, yet familiar negativity. Denial, overconfidence, and vulnerability are potential outcomes of allowing self-affirmations to define, instead of guiding oneself. Saying I am a good person! (or husband, mother, president, etc.), doesn’t make it so. Those are just the labels people wish the world to perceive them as.
Only through actions can anyone definitively make it so.