The Sticker on the Fruit
One Way We Can Move Forward Post-Pandemic
That little sticker on the apple you bought makes it faster for the cashier to scan it, it makes it faster for you to get through the line, and it lets you know if your apple was conventionally grown, organically grow, or genetically modified.
I think I may have eaten one of those stickers the other day…
They’re really annoying, eh? You’ve got to use your nails to try to peel them off, which isn’t the most sanitary of practices, even more so during a pandemic. And even if you do manage to get the sticker off, you’re sometimes left with that glue-like residue.
The stickers on the fruit might make it faster to get through the checkout line, but they’re awfully annoying, and sticking labels on people and problems might make it faster to communicate and make decisions, but they hold us all back.
Labelling is about the mindset with which we approach the world. When we look around, do we see people as though they have little stickers on them? Do we see that person and think, “Ah! 4015. She’s the bad apple, the most bitter.” Or do we see people as fellow human beings whom we don’t yet know? Do we see problems we don’t yet understand? Or do we see problems with little stickers on them, already having decided who’s to blame and why things will never change?
The artist and the politician stand at opposite poles. The artist enhances life by his prolonged concentration upon it, while the politician emphasizes the impersonal aspect of life by his attempts to fit men into groups.
― Richard Wright, Black Boy
Labelling is nothing more than the abdication of our ability to learn and the ignorant devotion to our own assumptions (or the assumptions of our preferred pundit). We turn off our brains, close our hearts, and choose the quick fix of labels. It’s still just judgement — even when it’s me labelling myself.
Once we’ve labelled, we’ve become less human — giving up our unique ability to listen, empathize, and understand. We’ve relegated ourselves to being just another note in the cacophony of noise echoing noise.
Labelling robs us of our ability to understand complex problems and, thus, solve them. Once we’ve reacted by labelling the problem itself, or the people involved, we’ve lost our potential for insight and decreased our chance of finding a solution.
Why do terrorists kill? Why are we not solving the climate crisis? Why is homelessness still a problem? Why is that country so poor? Why did Donald Trump become President of the United States? Why are mental health issues on the rise? Why do people believe in fake news?
We might have off-the-cuff answers to (some of) the questions above, but off-the-cuff answers are, often, just labels. How much time have we spent empathizing with the terrorist? How much time have we spent in the hole-ridden shoes of the homeless person? How long have we spent considering the personal pain of the pure-hearted Trump-voter?
How many colors are there in a field of grass to the crawling baby unaware of “green”?
― Stan Brakhage
To answer unanswered questions and to solve unsolved problems, we must think differently. Differently means looking at other people and problems with a humble curiosity — even people we’re sure we don’t like and problems that we’re sure we already understand. Our first job is not to communicate, to solve, or to know; our first job is to listen.
This does not mean we excuse ignorance or ignore injustice — refusing to call them what they are. It means that we give ourselves the time to listen for the quiet voice that’s hiding in ignorance and acting out with injustice.
If our future is to be brighter, greener, healthier, and more just than our present, it will not have been created by people who trusted in labels, but who led us with a humble curiosity.
If we were to give up labels, conversations would take longer, but we might just find ourselves with more innovative solutions, more meaningful connections, and more interesting opportunities than we’ve ever had before.
Let’s come out of this pandemic with fewer labels and more humble curiosity.
That’s day 9. I hope you’re safe and well.