Meaningless labels?

The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again. ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

Good morning.

I've moved back to my normal writing place. It feels better — a lot calmer.

I don't know why it is, but over the last two nights, I've experienced some very vivid dreams. I don't want to share the detail but they've been extreme enough to wake me from my slumber, and I've been left a little shaky. I've soon recovered my composure but it's taken me a while to go back to sleep. It goes like this: I've no dreams for months and then, boom, I can't stop dreaming.

Anyhow, the title?

Firstly, and for the avoidance of doubt, the rubric is aimed as squarely at my solar plexus as it to those who might be caught in the crossfire of what I'm about to say. Secondly, I'm not cross or frustrated with anyone in particular, but feel the need to say a few things about the way we've been seduced (or should that say, I've been?) to adopt some labels without ever or ever properly questioning their substance. And lastly, and again for the record, I'm not a misanthrope, despite my occasional outbursts against the human race.

OK, with that disclaimer out the way, here goes.

Why is it we've got into the habit of adopting certain labels or words and assuming what's implied (or suggested) is a given? Here are a few examples (and please remember, what I say is only for your consideration; if you relate to what I say great; if not, that's as equally valid — if not more so):



keynote speaker

Now, I understand the need to place people into easily recognisable categories but much like the whole spirituality trope, there needs to be much greater clarification and elucidation of why said person is claiming said title or has been hoisted aloft by her/his followers. 

More relevant, though, is the fact that we're meant to, as mere followers, acolytes or epigones, swallow the Kool-aid and take whatever message is being conveyed either to heart or out into the world without ever questioning the regnant label.

A few further observations:

1. Does the label really matter?
2. If there was no label, what then?
3. Does having all these labels get to the crux of the matter — whatever that is?
4. If we don't will our will, where does that leave the dogma of labels?
5. Does any of it really matter?

But actually, the point I really want to make is this. What's your actual experience of the use of labels when compared to the message that's trying to be conveyed qua the label?

I'll give you a personal example. Previously, I wanted to make partner in a law firm. I genuinely (or was that naively?) thought that it was the apogee of private practice. Sadly, bar one or two people who I didn't work with and had little opportunity to learn from, I ended up working with people who seemed to copy the habits of others and had no or next to no confidence to self-express what they thought a partner should do or aspire to do, let alone how they should behave. Worse still, whatever PR the firm put out, they blithely espoused it in a mechanical, formulaic way. If someone told them (as an example) that we needed to spend north of £100,000 to rebrand from Green to Blue (for no reason I could discern) then they happily repeated what the marketing team (presumably) had told them. My problem was, as someone genuinely interested in the firm's success, I wasn't particularly interested in what marketing said. I wanted to know what the partner thought. And...? You guessed it. He didn't know or at least I don't think he did why the firm had changed the colour of everything, right down to the colour of the free pens loitering in the reception area.

Perhaps this example is not exemplary enough to illustrate my tendentious point but the thing is, too often the label wilts in the face of any questioning let alone a cogent argument. Again the title leader[ship] springs to mind. I've seen more said and written on the subject than perhaps any other area. And you guessed it, the behaviours, by and large, are still as poor now as they were when I entered the workforce in December 1980. To be honest, I don't think this a failing of the authors of said books or the well-intentioned training programmes: it's a failing of the individuals in said leadership positions who don't understand that it's a privilege to occupy such a lofty position, and they are there to serve their cohort — no ifs, buts or maybes. 

One last label I'd like to look at. Coaches. To be clear, I used to hold myself out in that space even though I didn't accumulate any qualifications. I don't think I was very good. No, I know I wasn't. My problem — and it was mine alone — is that I wanted those people who came to me to examine the unexamined part of their lives (perhaps I had no business venturing into this territory) and whilst there were a few people who started off in that direction, it wasn't long before they were expecting me to provide all or at least some of the answers. And, you guessed it, as someone who doesn't like to offer solutions but, instead, invite a more beautiful question, I didn't get many (any!) takers. I'm not splitting hairs. My job — apart from wearing the lawyer label very loosely — is to invite you to find a more beautiful question and to live in that question much like Rilke invited in his wonderful book, Letters to a Young Poet. 

Now, arguably, the label isn't the problem. The problem is with those people who seek out a coach. What exactly are they expecting to happen? I mean, I've seen sports coaches up close and personal — again, they were a mixed bag — and it was a given, almost, that the coachee wanted to or needed to change if they wanted to win more races etc. But when you get someone who's not sure what they want out of life or whatever department they've assigned to the coach, it seems to me that the relationship is very different or at least sufficiently to not know what might be the problem to be solved let alone the destination.

In hindsight, perhaps my very personal examination of titles/labels misses the point completely. So, OK, I'll restate it succinctly. Not that I've any authority to command anything but I really do think, at this time more than any other, it's about time we held up to the light some of or all of the titles that we've so reverently held aloft as the solution to our worldwide problems. The most apposite area to me right now is the political sphere. Previously, to call yourself (in the United Kingdom) a Parliamentarian meant something — or at least it did to me. Now, with all the shenanigans that we've seen over the last 20 or 30 years, it's no wonder that my children's generation has so little respect let alone interest in the political system or the personalities that now adorn the stage. I'm well aware that that's less a problem with the label but more the people concerned and as so often happens changing the label, does not cure the problem(s). But I think it's always worth questioning why we seem to hold some labels/titles in higher esteem than others.

So, the takeaway from this post?

I don't know. For me, it's to question my adoption of any label and to decide whether it's helpful to my message, shtick or in assisting others. Even in work, I've gone from Contracts Manager to In-house Counsel. Does it really matter? Not to me. All that really matters is that I try my very best to do a great job, to be kind and thoughtful to others and to grow as a person.

What do you think?

Do you think I'm being too harsh or tilting at windmills? Again, I'd love to know.

Take care.

Blessings, Ju

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Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash


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