Stop Putting People in Boxes

You don’t like ___________ (insert group/person/identity) because they _____________ (fill in what aggravates you).

You may find that you fill in the first blank with terms like Republicans, gays, Mexicans, women, Jews, rich people – or any of the words you routinely add as you make a comment about someone else. The second blank may include things like they aren’t capable, they are bad, they are selfish, they are hypocrites. It’s like a bad game of MadLibs.

Try it out. How many of these phrases would you create?  How many people aggravate you and, therefore, you’ve grouped them into a category and decided you don’t like them? Moreover, where do these feelings come from?

Most of the time, we label people to help us see how different we are from others. Because if we are different, there is room for hate, judgment and critique. We decide that we are better, wiser, greater or something more than others. We use it to advance ourselves at the expense of others. In most of these situations, and I see this in my coaching, there is no foundation for the hatred or judgment other than an assumption (you saw a person act this way in the past and now all people like this act like this) or an interpretation (someone told you something and you now believe it to be true).

More hatred has been spread around by assumptions and interpretations than by any other methods. We fill in the stories to justify our perspectives to keep the hate, bias or bigotry going.

When we put people in boxes, we limit who they are. We group them with some attribute that limits their humanity, their intrinsic greatness, their ability to deliver their special abilities to the world. We think that the world should look and act as we think it should because our version is right and theirs is wrong.

Labels shortchange others and it shortchanges our world. If you don’t see what is possible in others, it oftentimes affects their ability to see what’s possible in themselves. The immigrant who was well accomplished in his own country but is now limited to menial roles. The woman who is an exceptional manager and leader but who is passed over for promotions because she is a woman. The avoided conversations that lead to a poor relationship with a friend who votes in one political party because you don’t share those beliefs.

We don’t encourage the best in ourselves and from others when we use labels on people. Labels are demeaning, limiting and unproductive. Instead, be on the lookout for others’ abilities, talents, strengths and passions. See what’s right with them instead of what you think is wrong with them. It takes practice because our habits are to judge, critique and find fault.

But since these unproductive behaviors are learned, is it also possible that we could learn that it is both better and more effective to understand, support and love? Not only will you feel better in your days, but you will help others do the same. And from that place, they are more willing and able to bring their best to all they do. The result is we have better lives and a better world.

Take Action
Review the first sentence of this blog. Fill in the blanks with as many as make sense for you to help you see what labels and judgments you make. Don’t justify them; just see them. Then consider how you will intentionally work to eliminate them, and to notice how you are changed when you do. Remember that the world will continue to remind you to keep your biases and judgment, so you will have to be more aware, more intentional and stronger to get rid of them. And you will build something bigger and better when you learn to keep people out of boxes and learn to see others’ intrinsic abilities and potential.    

By Jay Forte

Consider reading See the Bigger Picture

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