When I worked in corporate America I found myself in many networking meetings. And often the first question someone would ask was this: What do you do?
We’ve become so accustomed to equating people with their roles.
And it isn’t just an external association. We do it to ourselves.
Just ask someone to describe themselves and you’ll soon hear the labels they’ve self-ascribed to their persona. I’m a customer service rep. I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m an engineering manager. I’m a sales rep. I’m a nurse. I’m a single parent. I’m retired. I’m unemployed but currently looking.
That’s who we are. Or at least that’s who we say (and likely believe) we are.
What we do defines who we are.
But is that really an accurate representation of our true character?
Imagine asking a 7 year old child what they do. Would they plausibly respond with something like: I’m a chore doer. I’m a game player. I’m a room messer-upper. Probably not.
Most likely a seven-year-old would look strangely at the questioner: What do you mean? I don’t “do” anything. I’m just me.
The need to attach labels to ourselves – and others – supports the ego need to judge. And judgement greatly colors our lens of perception.
In a classic research study on elementary school students, teachers were informed that a certain group of students were about to become “academic bloomers” and rapidly grow in their intellectual and academic performance. In fact, this group of students was randomly selected from the student body.
When researchers returned to the school one year later, their findings were staggering. The bogus “academic bloomers” now dramatically outperformed their peers and had significantly higher IQ scores.
In what is now commonly referred to as the Pygmalion effect, the labels we “assign” to ourselves and others can directly affect performance and perception. Through such assignment, we build subjective conceptions of the self (us and others) – which are often extremely limiting and erroneous.
All your difficulties stem from the fact that you do not recognize yourself or your brother. (T-3.III.2)
Imagine what it would be like to see others with no subjective judgment.
You have no idea of the tremendous release and deep peace that comes from meeting yourself and your brothers totally without judgment. When you recognize what you are and what your brothers are, you will realize that judging them in any way is without meaning. In fact, their meaning is lost to you precisely because you are [labeling] them. (T.3.VI.3)
When meeting someone new, instead of asking them what they do, try something far more interesting: ask them what they’re passionate about. In many cases, their eyes will light-up as they begin talking and you’ll start to see beyond their self-imposed labels. From there, it’s a tiny step to suspend judgment and see the true connection between the two of you.
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll explore this concept of labeling and our societal practice of defining ourselves by our professional and social status. I look forward to seeing you then.