God doesn’t call me to judge you. God calls me to love you. ~Joel Osteen
I’ve been thinking about labels and reactions to labels. We sometimes reject the whole concept of labels, because they are often used to limit, or to divide “us” from “them.” We use them to dismiss, to separate, to stereotype, to discriminate, to judge. In the United States, we are all too painfully aware of the damaging and tragic use of labels based on race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and physical or mental disability.
So is the answer to throw out all the labels? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe the problem isn’t with the label itself but with how we use it.
For example, my son James is autistic. When he was a boy, he was mainstreamed in a regular classroom. His behavior seemed odd to other children. The children who tried to talk to him or include him in play were confused by behavior they didn’t understand. They were sometimes even afraid of him. They stayed away from him.
I made a decision to give them information, to use a label and explain it. Every year, near the beginning of the year, the teacher and I would arrange for someone to come in and talk to the kids about autism. James was not present for these discussions so that the kids could freely ask questions.
Without exception, once the kids had some knowledge, they showed tremendous acceptance and compassion. They went out of their way to include James.
Towards the end of his last year at that school, the PE department put on a presentation, showcasing the skills that the kids had learned. It was all very impressive, and the parents’ applause was constant. Then it was James’s turn. He started across the stage but then hesitated. Everyone got just quiet enough for me to hear one of the kids near him encourage him. “You can do it, James.” James tucked his head and did a crooked somersault. He stood up beaming. The whole gym erupted in applause. Tears were streaming down my face.
Labels don’t have to divide us. They can invite us in. Knowing that someone is from a different country, or practices a different religion, or is of a different ethnicity can be an invitation to get to know that person. We can be curious instead of judgmental. We can be welcoming instead of fearful. We can celebrate our differences, and in doing so, we can move past all labels and find our common ground.
Enjoy this short video of a dog who sees past labels.
related posts: The Water Is for Everyone; There Is No Them
Great idea. Once we understand it's easier to accept.ReplyDelete
I have found that to be true, Linda, in so many different contexts. Thanks for commenting.Delete
What a beautiful post and I loved it all. In fact, I know that fear of the unknown is a struggle in life. You did such an awesome job of helping your son fit in by telling the children about him. I loved this one.ReplyDelete
Blessings for posting this one. I am going to share this one~
Thanks, LeAnn. I appreciate your kind words, and your sharing!Delete
What a touching story! This post reminds me of our recent conversation about different faith backgrounds. It's a good reminder to stay open. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Sandra, I enjoyed that conversation and hope we can continue it. Thanks for commenting.Delete
Information is key. I am so grateful for an inquisitive mind. I had a classmate, whose label I never knew, that I became best friends with. He got in trouble all the time, had all sorts of issues, I just loved him, for years. I stood in defense of him to other children and protected him from their teasing, as much as a 6 yr. old could. The impact has effected me for a life time. He loved me back no question. this was my first experience with a mentally disabled person, I had no idea of that, I knew he was smart sweet and cute. those are the labels I remember.ReplyDelete
Beautiful story you tell here, thank you for sharing.
sunflowergirle, Thank you for sharing your story. Sometimes the labels aren't needed in order to bridge the gap and connect with someone. Your story is a testament to the compassion of children, who are willing to love everyone. Thanks for commenting.Delete
hi Galen, interesting that sometimes the most religious people can be the most judgmental forgetting the basic precepts of love. I've been try to become more aware of my inner workings when I judge, divide or pass commentary on someone or something.ReplyDelete
Even for someone like myself, who works in the social justice movement, there are groups, people and corporations that I have to work against that probably have some good they are trying to accomplish in the world. Trying to understand them or the value they provide, is a struggle, but I'm trying to get there:) How do we not judge in the face of injustice :) ?
Vishnu, You take an important step when you can recognize that those you don't agree with are often operating with the same motivation as you. What I mean is that they think what they are doing is right.Delete
But what about when they don't? How do we not judge in the face of injustice? One way, I think, is to realize that all injustice has its roots in fear. We can work for justice, even if it means working "against" someone, and still have compassion in our hearts for everyone on all sides of the issue. We don't have to create enemies in order to promote justice.
As another thing to think about, what is just is not always clear. This was brought home to me when I was doing a judicial clerkship for a federal appellate judge after law school. (I know you will relate to this with your legal background.) What I saw was that judges could all be sincerely seeking a just result and still disagree about what that just result should be.
When we dismiss someone's view as unjust or unfair or uninformed, or just plain wrong, it is easy to dismiss that person altogether.
Your work in social justice often puts you in a position where those who support your view sound just like those who don't. Everybody uses different vocabulary, but the effect of separation and alienation is the same.
A tough balance--yes?!
Thanks for commenting.
Wow - thanks for this very thoughtful and wise answer, Galen. I definitely get what you're saying and yes, you're right! More of working for the cause and what I believe is right without "judging" the other side. The goal is to create more just situations, not tear down the other side.Delete
I'm going to quote you on this line: We don't have to create enemies in order to promote justice.
Thanks for these insights as always Galen. You're always able to inspire and often change or re-frame my perspective.
Vishnu, I'm so glad to be having this discussion with you. Thanks for your additional thoughts and your kind words.Delete
Love your post, Galen! Labels can certainly make people feel isolated and different. Even for people with addictions or substance abuse problems, being labeled can make the difference if they get help or not. Underneath it all, we are people and share more common traits than differences.ReplyDelete
Cathy, I know what you mean. Labeling can work both ways. James's eligibility for much needed services when he was in school, and now when he is an adult, has always depended on finding a label, like autism, that entitled him to these services. At the same time, that label set him apart. But just like with addiction, the label "autism" plus information can bring understanding and compassion. As people learn more about addiction, there is more understanding for those struggling with it, don't you think? Thanks for commenting.Delete
Oh yes, I am definitely all about knowledge and understanding, both of ourselves and of other people. I really think it's the ONLY route to true tolerance and compassion.ReplyDelete
Beautiful post and sweet video, Galen! Thanks for sharing! :)
Jennifer, Perhaps there are those who are able to transcend the need for information and go direction to compassion, but for most of us, knowledge is indeed the gateway to understanding and compassion. Plus, knowing about folks is just so fascinating! Thanks for your comment.Delete
I like your discussion of labels and how they can actually lead us into relationship instead of away. So much is dependent on our perspective and our attitude. Yes, if we can be curious and not judgmental, celebrate the differences, as you say.ReplyDelete
Tina, I agree--our perspective sets our attitude about differences. While we are all the same at our deepest level, the differences on the surface are, as I said above, fascinating. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Loved your post Galen, I am touched by the inspiring video, so true ! The thought of my son who is no more and was a down syndrome child made me emotional, he was so sweet and different, i struggled to find a proper school for him, as he used to isolated in class because of his IQ. The one school that provided him opportunity and took him without a label was the last school for my son - he was very happy singing and dancing with other children, unfortunately he could not continue due to his respiratory problem, and finally left this world ... being non judgmental is the only way we can be compassionate and reach out to those who are deprived and different ! thanks for sharing your post, you have always inspired me...ReplyDelete
G Angela, I'm so sorry about the challenges your son faced, and your loss of him. From your description, it sounds like he was a shining soul, full of the joy of singing and dancing, which he shared with those around him. And it sounds like in the last school, he was appreciated for who he was. I appreciate your sharing your story. Thank you.Delete
Great post Galen. Opening our hearts and minds to "different" adds so much to our own spirit! I agree.. learning about and making room for differences in faith, politics,personality, all make our lives bigger and richer. My son is struggling in a relationship right now with a gal whose spiritual beliefs are different than his.They has everything in common but this.It is becoming an issue.I am praying for a good resolution.. he is accepting of her beliefs, she is needing him to adopt more of hers. He has met her half way but can't go the rest.. I am praying they can meet somewhere in the middle of acceptance and trust, and build a good life together.. I have always taught open mindedness in my home.. How wonderful your son has a Mom like you to pave the way..ReplyDelete
Madeline, When our beliefs require exclusive adherence, they can be a source of division. In fact, your comment reminded me of something I heard a few years ago about this very thing that made a huge impact on me. I think that will be my next blog post! Thanks for the inspiration!Delete
Perhaps this struggle between your son and his girlfriend will pave the way for both of them to reach a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and discover a way to go forward together. You know, I wrote recently about a book I read called The Faith Club. It's about three women from different faiths who came together after 9/11 to try to understand each other's beliefs. It's a great book, and it might help your son and his girlfriend find a way to transcend their differences. Just a thought.
Thank you for commenting.
There are tears in my eyes from the video that speaks volumes about love and acceptance in all circumstances.ReplyDelete
This has made my day.
Bob, I know. I tear up every time I watch it. The little boy is not so sure about this dog, but the dog stays present and loving no matter what. I love that! You've made my day! Thanks.Delete
I love how you turn the tables on labels in this post, Galen! We can take those negatives and turn them into the positive with simple acceptance and understanding. Walking a mile in someone else's shoes comes to mind . . .ReplyDelete
Blessings, my friend!
Martha, That saying has lasted over years and cultures for a reason! Thanks for commenting.Delete
Great post. Its all about having knowledge and understanding.ReplyDelete
I am glad to find your blog. Love the video! blessings…….ReplyDelete
You, too, JJ!Delete
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