- Thoughts for inspired living

May 18, 2021

Labels Outline, Not Define

Filed under: John Morgan's Blog — John Morgan @ 5:29 pm

I once readPeanuts 1046137 1920 that when you label something, you limit it – to that label. The idea is once we categorize something as “this,” it can’t be “that.”

Think of the axiom “First impressions are lasting.” You get that impression in seconds, not minutes, hours, or days, but it can last a lifetime.

We label people and ideas as though they are things that are set in cement.

There are many personality typing systems that put us into categories and I, for one, find them quite useful. It’s a starting point. It shows me a doorway into their personality and allows me to communicate with a person more quickly.

But if we get locked into that they’re “this” type, we’re not going to be able to go deeper with them. We’ll stay on the surface and our back and forths will have the depth of an interaction that ends with “Have a nice day.”

One of the labeling systems I have a fondness for is called the Enneagram. It casts people into one of nine different types. But within each type, there are what they call nine levels of development. Their labeling system outlines a person, but it doesn’t limit them with hard and fast rules and paint them into one corner.

Reminds me of a story. The legendary hypnotherapist Dr. Milton Erickson commented on the description of the work he did by two self-help luminaries: Richard Bandler and John Grinder, founders of NLP – Neuro-linguistic Programming. He allegedly said, “Those boys cracked the nut on my work. The trouble is, they took the shell and left the nut.”

We’re not going to stop labeling people anytime soon, so the message here is to avoid getting locked in and laser focused on any label. Have your label be in soft cement, or as my dad, a bricklayer, used to say, “C-ment.” That gives you the flexibility to shift to another position with someone, past your initial impression, and dare I say prejudice.

“Labels outline but not define” is a mantra that’s quite helpful to adopt. It will remind you that people are more than their shells.

All the best,


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