Dangers of Labeling

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Labeling. I love labeling! Or perhaps I should say, I love it when things are labeled, especially in a closet filled with boxes, or shelves of organizing bins. Those of you who know me from my Science North days know how my storage room looked – everything was labeled! In fact, people would come to Astro to borrow things, not because I was the only one who had them, but because they could find them easily. Which of course I didn’t mind, except when they borrowed things and didn’t bring them back!

Labeling of chemistry bottles is pretty important! There’s nothing worse than having an unlabelled bottle of clear liquid and wondering what it is! Or a spice jar – inside, you can see green, dehydrated flakes of <i>something,</i> but adding it to your spaghetti sauce could turn out to be disastrous! But equally dangerous, when we label things and people too quickly, we cut off our perspective.

Snap judgments are a type of labeling. If you were to meet my cat, for example, and instantly decide that black cats are bad luck, you’d miss out on getting to know him, seeing how sweet, cuddly and smart he is. Not an ounce of bad luck either! In your haste to label him, you might even miss the fact that’s he not really black! He’s actually very dark brown, and his fur turns a lighter reddish brown after he’s spent some time in the sun. So besides making a judgment about him without bothering to get to know him, you would have actually made an inaccurate assessment of reality by being to quick to come to a conclusion. This is obviously much more serious when it comes to racial over-generalizations or other snap judgments based on a person’s appearance.

Freedom comes when you stop labeling things! I used to be a professional astronomer, and so I knew every constellation, planet and the names of all the brightest stars. I knew a lot about moon phases and aurora borealis. But I missed out on the beauty of the sky, to a degree, by all the labeling I did (and also in feeling the need to explain everything). I find that these days, I enjoy just looking at the sky, not being so preoccupied with what constellation is where (I can still dig that out of my memory if I want to). The same might be true for you in an area you have expertise…maybe you compulsively label cars, by make and model, or by opinion – ugly, old, noisy, sleek, fast, expensive, etc. It is very easy to do!

Try this for fun: try to go as long as possible without mentally labeling anything. Just take in your surroundings and enjoy them as they are. Don’t judge them in any way, or analyze them, just disconnect your brain and observe whatever is near you. It works best in places you’ve never been – have you ever noticed that you feel different, “more alive,” when on vacation? That is probably because you are not labeling things but just enjoying them as they are. It is easiest when you’re in nature, but can be done anywhere! Give it a try and see if you notice more freedom, peace, life, or space in you. This idea comes from Eckhart Tolle’s book <i>A New Earth.</i> It’s an excellent book, and I recommend it to everyone! 🙂

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