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Doreen Guma, MA, FACHE, CPC, CLC

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Don't Label Me

Posted: 10/18/2013 5:10 pm

We all read labels, or we should. That's how we know what we're buying, what we're eating, or where we're going -- we absolutely need street names. Everything has a name and everything has a label, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Certainly it's a good thing if you're reaching for a can of chicken soup and wind up with something that might be gross instead, like pickled pork rinds. I'm not sure if there really is such a thing or if I made that up! (If there really is such a thing, and you like them, I'm sorry if I insulted your preference in food items). And, I know it may be important to know if you're in the "good side of town" or the "bad side of town," right? Who decided which was which, anyway?

So, I began thinking about the difference of good labeling and bad labeling. How many of us remember growing up and being labeled. There were the "cool" kids and there were the "geeks." I know I was luckily somewhere in between.

I also know you never wanted to have certain labels, like the smelly kid or the kid with the big nose... you know what I mean. There were absolutely labels you did not want to have growing up. Conversely, living up to a label could be kind of exhausting. What does living up to a label mean, you ask? How about if you were labeled as the smart kid, or how about being the pretty one? Those labels brought lots of pressure to a person, as well.

We've established that sometimes labels can be fun, sometimes they can be cruel, and sometimes they can even hold you back. In my book, "If I Knew Then What I Know Now, Our Quest for Quality of Life" (www.IfIKnewThenBook.com) I wrote about a common phrase, "Words cut like a knife." Think about it. They can.

Since I've been alive I've seen an increase in labeling people. My fear is that, at some point, we can grow into the label we are given and "prove" the label correct. For example, if you label someone learning disabled, will they have the confidence or drive to learn? If you label someone depressed, will they become more depressed? How about the labels disabled, addict, obese, poor, suicidal, failure, or hopeless. You know what? We are not our label, and it is in our power to prove a label wrong.

I've seen people with disabilities excel against all odds. I've seen those who had addictions turn their lives around and now help countless others. I've seen those who are obese decide they can become healthy. I've seen those who are suicidal become survivors and counsel others to become stronger. We've heard the stories of the poor, broken, "down on their luck" people start a business and succeed beyond even their own wildest expectations. I believe there are no failures, just times when we need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start over with a fresh perspective. And, I truly believe that those labeled "hopeless" just need a spark that will reignite their fire.

If you must put a label on someone, tell them they have a tendency to be successful. Tell them that they will excel. Tell them that they are wonderful. Tell them that they are beautiful. Tell them that they shine.

We're all on this earth to bring a light to another. We all can shine. That leads me to a project Michael K. Waterman and I have been working on for quite a while... BExtraordinary. It's a unisex fragrance to remind everyone they CAN be extraordinary and to remind us NOT to believe our labels. I personally know that it doesn't take much to push us down. It doesn't take much to make us have negative thoughts and to make us think we can't do something, can't achieve, and can't excel. It's hard not to believe the labels bestowed on us and to let a label define us.

We are not our labels. Each and every one of us is special in our own way. We each are individuals, we each have different perspectives, and we each have different values. That's what makes us unique. Labels from others may cause us to question ourselves and to take our spark away.

Be careful how you label someone, and be careful not to let a label run your life. After all, we are all people trying to do the best we can, right?

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

 

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