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May's La Tela: let's get rid of labels!

Sent on May 27, 2022

Today I would like to explain my point of view on why labels are harmful, what I mean by "labels" and I'll give you 4 ideas to avoid them and 1 exercise to do this week.

Imagine a child who always hears their parents describe them as shy every time he hides between his mother's legs when they meet new people. What does that child think? I am a shy child. What is that child doing? They create that image of themselves in their mind and unconsciously satisfy the expectation that people have of them by continuing to hide, because they think "I am shy". That's a label.

Labels put us in boxes in the minds of others and in our own. When I say "we are in boxes" I mean that it is as if we all carry labels that classify us in all kinds of categories: lazy, kind, anxious and so on ...

When we put a person into a category, it is much more difficult for us to create an idea of ​​that person based on who the person really is, their individuality, their uniqueness. It is much more likely that, unconsciously, even with the best of intentions, we create an image of that person based on what is written on the label, because the label translates in our minds into expectations and judgment of values ​​and attitudes.

4 ideas to avoid labels

I leave you 4 ideas on how to change some of the most common labels of our day to day:

  • Change the word with a sentence. Instead of saying "Emily is lazy" we say, "Emily doesn't feel like walking today." I avoid saying "she's tired" because I don't know if her not walking is determined by tiredness. And I add "today" to tell her say that it is temporary(although it happens often). In short, I try to be as objective as possible so as not to create stereotypes in my mind or hers.
  • Use the name. If I tell Oliver "You are lazy", he thinks "I am a lazy person" and may not try, even when he feels like it. If I tell Emily "You are very funny" she thinks "I am a funny person" and may feel a responsibility to always meet that expectation, despite her mood. When I'm about to say "you are ..." I end the sentence with her name. Whether Emily says something funny or doesn't want to walk, I say "You're so Emily!".
  • Describe or ask questions. Instead of saying "well done!" When they show me a drawing, I say: "Wow! What did you draw?", "I see you worked so hard!", "You drew a red truck!", "Do you like it?". This kind of attention often makes the child feel much more satisfied than just saying, " well done!".
  • Avoid stereotypes. Regarding the role stereotypes that are perpetuated in a family, I prefer to talk about family members rather than individuals: for example, instead of saying "my husband is present", I describe and include the roles of the whole family "in our family my husband and I take turns to cook", “in our family my husband cooks and I do the laundry”.

Exercise for you

I invite you to reflect on the use you make of labels, on how many and which ones you use and to strive to eliminate them from your conversations, relationships and mentality. I'd like to remind you that even when we use adverbs like "always" or "never" it becomes a kind of labels: "always" and "never" are not intellectually honest words ("you never tidy up" is rarely 100% true) and I chose to replace them with "often" and "rarely".

I'd like to invite you to do an exercise with me this week: write a list of the labels you put on your family members in your conversations (the most frequent in my case were: "you're impatient", "you always complain", "you aren't kind") and another list with the labels that you attribute to yourself (my most frequent was "I'm selfish"). And next to each one write a possible sentence to avoid them. If you want, you can print this model and use it to do the exercise.

I start:

You are impatient > I'd like you to try and use more patience when we talk, could you try to say it in another way please? (I describe the action I would like: lately I use this sentences a lot with my husband, because he's under stress at work and he has less patience with me than usual…)

You always complain > I have noticed that you complain when you are hungry and tired, would you like to find an alternative behavior together? (it helps me focus on why they're complaining instead of making an empty criticism).

You are not kind > You didn't use your usual kindness, would you like to try saying / doing it again? (It helps me remember that it's possible not to be kind sometimes and still be a kind person.)

I'm selfish > I'm taking care of myself, because I can't take care of my children and my husband if I don't take care of myself first (this helps me remember that the decisions I make that seem selfish to me are actually in the interest of the whole family).

You turn.

Happy Friday and see you in La Tela.