I have a part inside of me that understands that every other human and I belong to each other. Granted, that part of me understands that this is a lofty notion, and so it often remains quiet . Other parts of me have spent a good deal of my life, especially my younger years, schooling in all the “indicators of the other.” Indicators of the other are those things I was taught to see, hear or otherwise perceive that mean “I’m not like that” or “they are not like me.” When one of these indicators shows up, I learned to internalize that I and this “other” do not belong to each other. On some level, this was about safety. These “others” were deemed as dangerous by those who taught me, somehow. As a grown up, a senior citizen now, holding membership in a community that aims to be radically welcoming . . . I am well skilled at automatically labeling people with “indicators of other.” No thought is required, and my body will begin to take on behaviors that silently exclude “the other.” 

Here’s the hard work. I am walking around with a built in process that I learned as a child, unconsciously, and it moves me to act in ways that send signals to some people: you are not welcome around me. No thought required–until I start to engage with that part of myself and say to myself: Let’s not apply that label today. Let’s see beyond this label. Let’s see who this is. Let’s listen a bit longer. Let’s ask some questions. Is there really a threat here? 

Over the years, I’ve been able to retire a lot of the labels with which I was taught to judge people. I’m still working, though. That quiet part of me still reminds me from time to time: You belong to me.  I belong to you. Belonging is the only “label” that matters.

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2 Responses to Labels

  1. Rita Romero says:

    This is so true. The way that our brains were wired when we were young and impressionable is very hard to overcome. I also have to fight with the stereotypes that I was taught. I’m glad that many of us can grow and see people for who they truly are, not what we were taught. But the sad thing is that many cannot get past the labels and they have the same beliefs that they were taught, they have not grown. I believe that is one major problem with this country. We are all connected, and maybe one day everyone on the earth will realize that. Maybe, one day. Thank you!

  2. Katrina says:

    We all have unconscious bias. I wonder what the first step is in breaking down the entrenched learning when we were young. I wonder what we can do to step outside our consciousness and become “like a fly on the wall” and watch how we respond to people who do not reflect us. My best break from letting labels obscure the person was teaching diverse populations. I had to get rid of the personal “me” and act in a objective/professional manner. It might be a little of “fake it till you make it”. Be as fair and equal to all humanity… It’s a lifetime process to shake off the deep learning of Us and They. The more exposure the better.

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