Beyond Labels

May 21, 2010

An author, enigma, husband, lazy, philosopher, stupid, intelligent, uncle, dreamer, kind, father, sincere, creative genius, son, public speaker, radical, friend, loving, designer, liberal, conservative, insightful, extremist, smart ass, brilliant, idiot, businessman, brother, left-wing, right-wing… these are some of the words and labels people have used to describe me over the past year. Some have been shared directly, others behind my back. While some labels are more objective and useful to communicate, others are subjective and open to interpretation. Notice the contradictions in my labels? That’s because they are projections. Labels reflect as much about the labeler as they do the person being labeled. Since I put little merit in subjective labels, I try not to let them influence my thinking. As people we are more than labels… and reality always trumps words.

While labels simplify the world, provide context and help us organize our thoughts, they don’t define reality. In business, people are given titles to describe a role or position. These labels don’t describe who they are, or what they’re capable of doing. The same holds true with children. Have you ever heard a conversation along these lines?

“My daughter is gifted… she’s in all the advanced classes!”

“That’s wonderful, my son is LD… actually, he’s ADD… and in special classes.

“My oldest son is ADHD and he went on to college. My daughter is average… she’s getting by in regular classes… if she worked harder she could be in AP courses.” Read more


October 1, 2009

"I’ve found kids labeled “slow” or “gifted” often travel in the same direction but at different speeds. “Average” kids move in a predictable direction at a moderate speed… making them easier to teach."

I’ve found kids labeled 'slow' or 'gifted' often travel in the same direction but at different speeds. 'Average' kids move in a predictable direction at a moderate speed… this makes them easier to teach.

Which Label Best Describes You?

Hopefully your answer is, “None of the above.”

Seeing this “Slow Children” sign inspired me to create a couple more. We each attach our own meaning to words and labels—symbols. While symbols often stay the same, the meanings we attach to them are continually changing. When I was a kid, the word “gay” referred to being carefree or happy-go-lucky.

The swastika dates from the Neolithic period and  still appears today as a positive religious symbol in parts of India. In the western world it has become stigmatized and even taboo because of its usage by Nazi Germany.

Without physically changing, symbols carry different meanings based on what we attach to them.

Consider these five points…

  1. Symbols (words, labels, etc.) don’t define reality; we use them to try and express it.
  2. Symbols don’t provide meaning; observers do.
  3. All symbols continually change over time to serve a new purpose.
  4. While symbols can be helpful, they can also block us from seeing reality, solving problems, and creating new solutions.
  5. When it comes to kids (people), symbols (labels) don’t work so well.

Creating new solutions requires looking past old beliefs and representations of reality.