Perspectives: Word magic and my label maker

OPINION – It looked like just another piece of junk at the yard sale. But I knew better.

To the average person, it looked like a well-used label maker. But for me, it represented the ability to practice word magic. Soon I was labeling anything within reach. Toys, books, furniture, even pictures were soon clearly labeled for anyone who may have been wondering.

Eventually my labels fell off and were forgotten. As I grew, I discovered another kind of label that appeared to stick like super glue. Unfortunately these labels could only be applied to other human beings.

As my friends and I put these labels on our classmates or on each other, we assumed that we were just being helpful. How would a person know that this person was a druggie or that person was awkward if we didn’t label them so? We had a label for every characteristic, deformity or challenge that a person might have. Once applied, the person often became what we had labeled them.

Our word magic was stronger than we realized.

The realization hit me like a freight train at my 20th class reunion. To this day, some still carried the labels we gave them. Sometimes the label eventually fell off, though emotional residue remained.

I’d made a conscious decision to visit with every classmate I encountered. As we talked, I recognized how terribly I had misjudged or underestimated them. I wasn’t alone in this realization. I could see it in their eyes.

The labels we’d used had somehow allowed us to reduce remarkable human beings to mere objects. But our childish labeling couldn’t begin to describe the true depth and value of these individuals.

By treating others as less than ourselves, we ceased to see them as they really were.

The Arbinger Institute describes this distortion as “being in the box” in their book “Leadership and Self-Deception.” We had fallen prey to a self-deception that caused great harm to ourselves as much as those we had targeted. Had we known then what we finally understood so many years later, we might have used our word magic to build one another.

It’s one thing when lack of maturity leads us to label others. But what should we make of such behavior in adults?

Sadly, there is still an abundance of otherwise rational grownups that still believe in word magic. The frustrated labels we stick on our children can have long-lasting unintended effects. Once again, when we stop seeing our children as objects, every aspect of our relationship with them improves.

But we can also inflict damage on ourselves by how we label other adults. For instance, when faced with a contrary point of view, do we grab our label maker and get to work?

It’s a lot easier to label someone a “right-winger” or a “bleeding heart liberal” than it is to actually consider his or her point of view. By sticking our labels on another, in effect we’re saying, “you have nothing of value to offer.” But we cannot know this until we’ve actually heard what they have to offer.

Life is full of complex issues and problems. Every individual we meet is fighting a private battle known only to him or her.

Using our word magic to pigeonhole another does nothing to lighten their burden. But, an encouraging word at the right moment can provide the necessary spark that kindles a roaring fire of determination in a struggling person’s heart.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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  • Big Don April 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Not only labels, but nicknames. I got the nickname Big Don in junior high school, and it has stuck all these years. I’ve known others who were called “Stinky,” “Pinkie,” (absolutely no idea where that came from,) but he was a small time politician, and still went by that name. . .”Dirty” and numerous others. Childish names that follow a person all their life.

    • Naming Convention April 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      Read a hometown obituary for Richard Shaver, but it used the nickname (Dick) in place of Richard. I thought “Wow! That would be tough life to grow up with that name!” But he seemed a successful and respected person according to his obituary. Still, what were his parents thinking when they named him?

  • RPMcMurphy April 12, 2013 at 8:57 am

    I worked with a fellow named Charles Cluck who went by the nickname Chuck. When he introduced himself as Chuck Cluck people would laugh and mentally write him off as clownish. Underestimating Chuck proved quite expensive for a number of people with whom he had business dealings

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