Regardless the outcome of the 2020 election, the USA has developed issues that must be resolved if we are ever to come together as a thriving, healthy country. Hopefully, that is everyone’s ultimate goal.
Labels are a fundamental part of our belief systems. We make decisions based on our life experience, and what we think we know. After reviewing an issue or an event through our unique filters, we will then frequently attach a label that might describe how we have assessed that person or event or circumstance. Something is “good” or “bad”. A person is honest and standup, or deceitful and crooked, etc.
While categorizing things we encounter according to life experiences is normal human response to stimuli, most of us resent labels applied to us or to our actions with which we disagree. Our resentment then becomes part of how we interpret the person or people who applied the label. In other words, we find our own labels for those who have labeled us negatively.
In a discussion with someone regarding a performance review, I was informed that labeling a person in the process of a review is completely inappropriate. For example, one should never brand a person as lazy, incompetent, irresponsible etc., during performance reviews. The problem is that the labeling is occurring whether it is communicated or not. Perhaps the labeling is less of a problem than our lack of strategy and skill in sharing our thoughts. That tentativeness to share our labels of others is probably a good thing, as it rarely turns out well when we say it aloud.
Start with the premise that it is not the saying of the label that is bad, or even the forming of the label in the first place. The negative impact of sharing a label has much more to do with how it is said. This distinction is important.
Imagine that you are in the position of needing to give feedback to someone. You have decided that this person’s constant lateness, frequent personal phone calls during working hours, and the fact that the person leaves exactly at quitting time each day are all symptoms that the person is lazy. During a review with this person, you focus on arriving on time, no personal calls and showing a focus other than the clock. You think you have done a great job of fixing the problem by being specific with your feedback. Now the person shows up on time, stays five minutes after end time, stopped taking personal calls.
Unfortunately, this person’s breaks are longer, discussions around the water cooler are more often and other escapes from focused work are in evidence. Apparently, you were correct in your assumptions and that person is now figuring out different ways to avoid work. You are starting over. If you had declared the person lazy at the beginning, they would have better understood what problem they needed to solve to get in your good graces.
The difficulty is that most of us do not know how to communicate our labels, even though they are an important part of our assessment. There are simple rules that must be followed to do so effectively.
One must always start with an assumption that you may be wrong. Yes, you formed your conclusions based on everything you have learned about human behavior. Certain behaviors are indicators of a person’s nature. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time you will be correct, but those behaviors may mean something completely different. If you have ever actually called a person lazy, for example, you may have been inundated with all the reasons that what you saw does not mean what you thought it meant. That could have just been excuses and you are still correct, but just pretend you do not know everything.
If you presented your feedback with a notion that you might be wrong in your conclusions, you keep the other person’s attention and you increase the odds of solving the real problem. So instead identifying and solving each infraction of work ethic, you share those infractions as evidentiary to your conclusion. “I’ve noticed that you are often late, take a lot of personal calls, and leave as soon as you can each day. Unfortunately, from where I sit, that can look a lot like a pattern, and I might erroneously conclude that you are on the lazy side of the spectrum.” And then you shut up.
It really does not matter whether he or she tells you that you are completely wrong and then he or she gives you a multitude of excuses for the behaviors. This person now knows that he or she must change your mind about the reasons. The person is now solving the problem of you thinking that he or she is lazy.
Labels can be a mixed pickle, but they are important pieces of the puzzle.
And now we change the focus back to our country.
The good (and bad) news is that in the political arena of our times, no one is holding back on the labels. Everyone is quite free with tags like Racist, Liar, Cheater, Crook, Socialist, etc. Unfortunately, these labels are being applied to entire groups of people with little discrimination. They are being applied in a way that makes your target completely shut down to anything which follows the labeling.
So, we start with an understanding that labels probably need to be heard so that we know what problems we are solving. If you know that being a conservative labels you as a racist in the other person’s mind, and you care about what that person thinks, you may want to identify why they came to that conclusion. If you are the person applying the label, assume you are wrong and remain open to the potential that you are applying that label to someone you actually know is not racist. You do so because the person belongs to a group that you have determined (rightly or wrongly) is racist. What is the point? Quality of life is always the point. Labels are good and bad, but broad application of labels is generally a mistake with big consequences.
Apply the concept to the people who consider themselves liberals. There are a lot of labels that get tossed around about liberals that do not apply to every individual in the group. If you are assuming someone belonging to the group is therefore a cheater or socialist, you may be making a grave mistake, and it may just be in a relationship that matters to you. None of us want to live in a divided country. We need to understand why others are as committed to one side or the other so that we can begin to meet somewhere in the middle.
It is time for all of us to grow up. We are allowing people with personal agendas beyond our comprehension to divide us at the most essential levels. If we are, in fact, wrong to trust them and have not been diligent in our fact checking, we deserve the consequences. Fact checking does not mean going to fact checking sites on the internet. Most of them are highly unreliable. Checking the fact checkers is a part of due diligence.
Fact checking brings us to one more element that should be added to this understanding of the problem. That element is the importance of critical thinking. It fits right in with being humble when assigning labels that have not been confirmed.
We must accept the fact that we are often influenced by people we assume we should trust without truly knowing if they are trustworthy. They form and manipulate our understandings and beliefs of what is really happening, and they often have an agenda that is all about themselves. And yet, we quote them and destroy personal and public relationships because of what they say.
How do we know the difference? How do we determine truth? Always, start by assuming you are wrong. Look for factual information to back up both sides of an issue. You may still be misled, but the probability of being wrong goes down the more diligent you are in looking for information. And remember, humility is good. It might save you from serious embarrassment when and if you find that you backed the wrong horse.
Currently we have so many individuals trying to influence our collective consciousness, that trusting no one must be the starting place. And then, do your homework. Do not just absorb the opinions of others. Read the books, listen to the people closest to the people you are trying to analyze. Do not turn away from sources of information because you do not believe in them. No one is perfect, so watch what they do and what they accomplish for clues. You will generally find that each person brings good and bad baggage to the mix. Try to determine a means to weight the baggage by what they actually deliver. Do they keep their promises? Are they sincere about what they are attempting? Would you volunteer to do something dangerous with that person and just know that he or she will follow through?
As a personal opinion, I would never regard the media as a trusted source of information. They too seem to be operating from an agenda which is beyond objectivity.
The stakes are high, and the lack of critical thinking is daunting. Too many of us have had our beliefs formed by those who have personal agendas. Shake it off and stay open. Anything less is ignorant.