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The Label Effect

How Labels Move Us to Judgment

· Judgment,DPC Blog,Labels

Week 1 - Supplemental Blog to DPC #4

No one likes to stick out. We all want to blend in, maintain anonymity and appear average. One of the biggest fears for most people is being singled out in a crowd: people whispering under their breath, pointing fingers and laughing with friends as they label you “different”.


We have all been in a situation where we have felt isolated, alone and estranged. Perhaps you were the last person to walk into a meeting that had already begun, all eyes shoot in your direction as the door behind you slams, announcing your tardiness. “She’s always late”, they mutter under their breath.

Maybe it was during a spiritual gathering when your cell phone rang it’s obnoxious tune only to cause everyone in the congregation to stop in their tracks and audibly hiss how “disrespectful you are” as they turn to look in your direction.


Consider the last time you were pulled over in traffic. All eyes are on you as you sat idly waiting for the police officer to write you a ticket. Gawker's amass, causing a slow down as passersby stop to get a glimpse of the “wrongdoer”, the “traffic- offender”, you. You may have found yourself sinking deeper into your seat, hoping not be to seen by a neighbor or PTA member as you cordially take the pricey slap on the wrist for going 10 miles over the speed limit.


When we are labeled, we feel isolated from the crowd, alone and embarrassed. A quick label and eye roll from a colleague can immediately put us on the defense, enticing us to explain away the behavior we are being judged for. The short-cut that labels provide to the on-looker rob us of our individuality, our personhood, and our humanity.


When labels are used to define people they place a unique individual inside a standard box, denying them of their history, choices, upbringing and way of life. Labels deny a person of “their story”.

Labels are a quick and dirty judgment tool we use to make sense of our world. The problem is, labels rarely make any sense. We simply slap a stereotype stamp on someone and then walk away.

If your best employee was the one who walked in late to the board meeting, would you not want them to explain the reason for their tardiness? Perhaps they were behind schedule because they were handling a crisis with an employee. A label would only serve to encourage judgment.


What if that was your spouse's cell phone that rang in the middle of church service? Maybe they were waiting for an important message that your loved one made it out of surgery successfully, which is why they were in a place of worship, to begin with. A label would only diminish their hopes and prayers.
Would you feel compelled to label a neighbor if you saw them pulled over in traffic if you knew that they were rushing to the bedside of a sick friend? Wouldn’t you want to beg the officer to take pity on the infraction and ensure that they arrive safely to say their last goodbye?


Labels do not take into the account the entire person. They simply take a single action, incident or behavior and designate a trivial and empty meaning.


So, the next time you feel compelled to label a person because of a specific characteristic, stop yourself. Recognize that you are categorizing rather than connecting, which only leaves everyone feeling isolated, alone and estranged.

~ Cathy Braxton, CDCS

Cathy Braxton is the Chief Education Officer of Silver Dawn Training Institute.

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