Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Breaking the Habit of Simplistic Labeling

Today is Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.  –Oscar Wilde

Nobody's really all "saint" or all "sinner."  Those words create an artificial division that imposes limits on everyone.  Still, we often classify ourselves and people around us into one category or another.  We may not use the words "saint" and "sinner."  We may just think of "good" people and "bad" ones, even though we know full well that no one is all good or all bad.  We insist on putting ourselves and other people into one of these two categories, when we know people are a lot more complex than that.

The trouble with labeling people is that we limit their ability to make changes.   Actually, on second thought, I think it's it's more accurate to say that we limit our own ability to accept other people's changes.  Our attitude really only limits us, not anybody else.  In fact we also limit our own ability to make changes.If we have behaved in ways that we are not proud of, there's no law that says we can't do better in the future.  That's what it means to say that every "sinner" has a future. 

Most of our changes take place progressively, over time.  For example, many people are unable to quit smoking, cold-turkey.  They have to wean themselves off cigarettes slowly, and even after they have quit, many people "fall off the wagon" several times.  The key is not to give up the quit.  Just acknowledge that you messed up and start again.  That's where we fail.  We make one little mistake, put ourselves into the "sinner" category or label ourselves as a failure, and give up on our attempt to change for the better.

We use this type of simplistic thinking in other areas of life, as well.  Many of us have decided that since we haven't made a million dollars, written a famous book, won Olympic gold or gotten on the cover of TIME magazine, we haven't been successful, and in that case, we must be unsuccessful.  Some of us even think this way when we have a job that pays the bills, live in a nice neighborhood, and have raised well-adjusted children who are contributing members of society. 

Another simplistic division is "believer" and "unbeliever."  There are many people of faith who have decided that if a person does not belong to their own specific religion, the person must be completely godless, forgetting that there are many ways to worship God. 

In the United States, we make a simplistic division along political lines, calling people "liberals" and "conservatives," when many people – even card-carrying members of either of the two major parties – don't agree totally with either platform.  We reserve our sharpest wrath for people who switch parties, especially if they are politicians.

As well, we judge politicians in office as "liars" if they don't keep 100% of their campaign promises, forgetting that in every legislature, as well as in Congress, there are members of other parties who disagree, and who make it their business to keep politicians in office from completing their campaign pledges, which are really statements of intent, rather than promises.

Wouldn't it be better if we were able to leave behind our "good guy / bad guy" mentality and just accept that people are what they are.  Wouldn't it be better to release ourselves and others from the bondage and limitation of labels?  Wouldn't it be nice if we were able to give ourselves and others an honest chance to make changes based on changing situations?  :-)

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