Labels Fall Short

Too often we slap a label on an individual that may capture a moment in time but fails to consider the bigger picture. 

You might witness a woman in a given situation and see a stress response activated in her, for example, that would lead you to assume she suffers from anxiety.  But if you were to swim upstream in the story of her life, you would discover she only acts that way in a particular setting, around or in reaction to a specific person.  Taking in a broader view, it becomes clear that what you’ve witnessed is a reasonable reaction to an experience of mistreatment.  Whenever she’s near that person she is on high alert, scanning for threat. Her behavior is a survival technique, not a default setting.  To claim she has clinical anxiety misses the mark, it is a label that falls short. 

In our culture we are tempted to think dualistically or in parts.  Sorting people into categories gives us a false sense of security and power (e.g. we know what’s wrong with them and how to fix it).  In our immature judgment we keep others at arm's length by assuming something untrue instead of becoming curious about what is.  If we shift our focus to trying to understand a fuller context, perhaps we could then offer something that is actually useful and transformative — compassion. 

Let us do better. Let us take a moment to acknowledge that we most certainly do not have all the information about why someone acts the way they do.  Let us see where labels fall short and, instead of labeling, love. 

May you be inspired!

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