Beyond Labels

I’ve been thinking about labels…

We use them liberally to inform our choices. To categorize and classify. To add structure to our disorderly world.  Many times we use them to define each other… to put each other in a box so we can more easily deal with conflict or quickly identify those who share our values.

It’s like we all have label makers in our back pocket, and we love to use them!

Recently I was at a retreat for business executives. This is a unique organization that brings diverse leaders together to unify, strengthen and serve their individual communities. Mutual respect for diverging perspectives is a cornerstone of the membership which helps leaders gain skills for critical dialog. At this gathering, however, something stood out to me.

Throughout the weekend, there was an underlying tone of condescension for one of the political parties. Now it was subtle. I don’t think people even realized it was present, but it pervaded conversations and presentations in such a way that the disdain just seemed like “fact”…that one political party was inherently wrong and had to be dealt with. To me, this was just a symptom of the current state of our political climate. It also got me thinking.

WHAT IF we chose not to immediately define each other by our political affiliation?

WHAT IF we were able to see beyond who we voted for in the last election?

Think about it.  When we hear, “Oh, she’s a Democrat….”  or  “He’s a Republican…” we jump to conclusions. We think we know exactly where the other person is coming from and we cast judgment based on our own perspective. We also close our thought to each other, automatically assuming that suddenly we are on opposites sides of a great divide that can’t or shouldn’t be breached.  If we continue on this course, we will continue to have the ideological chaos that we are starting to accept as the status quo in our country. However, we can break through this wall of obstruction if we begin to deal with ideas, not labels.

We see this example in local politics. In El Dorado County, our political climate is truly non-partisan. In fact, for a long time, I didn’t even really know how my fellow Councilmembers had registered….and we’ve found it doesn’t matter.

We take one issue at a time. We talk about it. We look for the community’s perspective. Naturally we bring our own knowledge and critical thought into the process, and then we make common sense decisions based on the common good.  And we don’t give a darn what label is next to our names at the Registrar’s office, because at the end of the day, we are all here to bring our best to the decisions at hand in service to our community and our country.

That sounds like a pretty good model to follow.





Comments (2)

  1. Wayne Campbell

    Well said, Wendy. This is a practice that I’ve been trying to perfect for the last few years, and it has done wonders in truly opening my eyes to differing perspectives. I no longer see red or blue, only the views colored by another person’s experiences and education. I now make more informed decisions, both personally and professionally, on a daily basis. I’d like to see more of the same.

  2. Susan Zito

    You are absolutely correct Wendy about successful outcomes when decision-making is based on the issue and not on partisan politics. We are first, and last, Americans and decisions by our policy makers should be made cooperatively by both major parties on what is best for our citizens. Unfortunately many legislators feel that working cooperatively with their colleagues from another party will be seen as weak or will lose them votes, when in fact the American people are the losers when nothing is accomplished to advance our country forward and keeping its citizens safe.


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