Labels: The Real Enemy of Political Progress

 

I don’t see labels. I mean, I do because we were programmed to believe in labels, but (after pushing down my programmed beliefs), I’m able to take a step back, see a person, event, or thing and cut through the labels. Now, I view reality from a completely different plane where I can see it from so many different angles and it has, for the most part, freed me from the insidious absoluteness of labels. Labels like: good, bad, gay, straight, black, white, poor, rich, pessimistic, optimistic, boring, awesome, etc.; all work to confine our thinking within their parameters. Once you decide to label something and view it from a certain perspective, it becomes all too easy to miss anything that doesn’t fall within the parameters of said perspective.

Outside of the label lies opportunity after opportunity, but without perceiving something as “an opportunity,” there’s little chance of even noticing. Instead of saying something as absolute as “this” or “that,” what we should be learning is how to trash the labels and realize that things, people, and events just are. They exist, and that’s all we can know for sure. When you’re able to strip away the labels, it widens your perspective, and widening your perspective opens you up to so many new opportunities that were near impossible to see before. To look at an event labelled as “bad” (like war, climate change, or a break-up) as an opportunity actually activates our imagination and our brains begin to search for all of the potential opportunities lying beneath. If we keep seeing it as bad, our brains search for all of the reasons it’s bad, and our imaginations cherry-pick other aspects of the event that may not even be bad (or related to the event in the first place) and label them as bad too.

As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet: “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Basically, nothing means anything; things just are until we think about and classify them by using labels.

What about politics?

Modern politics is ALL about labels. From Republican or Democrat, pro or anti, to racial, socioeconomic, and religious labels, these labels confine, not only the policy makers, but anyone who identifies themselves, and others, within them. Labels are the primary reason why the political system hasn’t made significant progress in recent years: it has been confined, and now, must be freed.

Is the political landscape the best it will ever be? Not even close. There’s work to be done to improve upon what has already been accomplished over the last few millennia, yet today’s excessive labeling is holding back growth. In observing the behavior of politicians, political candidates, and the press over recent years, I have noticed an increase in labeling. They label other politicians, bills, political parties, etc., as and these labels create barriers to progress. These people are serving as our leaders and leaders lead by example, so, as a result, many people have been following this example and using labels to define their lives and their perceptions of others. Labeling is so, so destructive. My labeling of labeling as being destructive is destructive. Solving the labeling problem is tricky, but the first step is to identify that there’s a problem, and then work toward a solution. Over my next few blog posts, I’m going to refer back my experience as a political science major, combine it with the recent research I’ve done in human behavior and positive psychology to:

1.) Identify a label that’s confining the growth of politics

2.) Cut through the label and reveal the truth (that it means nothing)

3.) Predict what could happen if the label is replaced with an opportunity perspective.

Labels are something we have programmed into us from the day we’re born, so it might feel a little bit uncomfortable to imagine life without them. If someone tells you they got fired from their job because their boss is an ass, they probably expect you to respond with, “That sucks. He is an ass. I’m sorry.” They definitely don’t understand when you respond with, “That is,” or, “Is that really true?”

When I was a kid, I was told I was white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, nerdy, and many other things that I never challenged. When I realized I wasn’t born with any of these labels, that I just believed them and went through life applying them to myself, I picked the ones I wanted to keep and started to really come out of my shell. At first, it was uncomfortable and often difficult to shirk some of these, but since coming to the realization that I’m not my labels, I’ve found what I love to do, am pursuing a career doing it, and loving every minute of it! I realize that nothing will ever be “perfect” (another label) and my life won’t play out exactly how I have it planned, but every day is an opportunity to get better, no matter what happens. I have grown as a person beyond what I could have been if I stuck to what I was programmed to believe. Anyone can. I’m not white, shy, happy, weird, Catholic, a Republican, middle class, straight, lazy, not athletic, or nerdy; I’m David Horning and I am the way I am because I choose to be.

Over the next few weeks, let’s work together to break down the barriers that labels build in our lives and start growing into who we really are.

What kind of labels do you use to describe yourself? The people around you? The events that unfold in front of you?

Words, Words, Words

*This blog uses language that is NSFW… or does it?

Fuck.

Just 4 letters put together to make a sound, given a definition by some shadowy council, and given meaning by anyone who uses it or hears it being used.

verb
1. Have sexual intercourse with (someone).
2. Ruin or damage (something).
noun
noun: fuck; plural noun: fucks
1. An act of sexual intercourse. A sexual partner.
exclamation
exclamation: fuck
1. Used alone or as a noun the fuck or a verb in various phrases to express anger, annoyance, contempt, impatience, or surprise, or simply for emphasis.

(I’m not going to include the Urban Dictionary definitions because it muddles the meaning of the word even more.)

Who decides whether or not a word is vulgar? Who decides whether or not they are offended by someone’s words? Who’s to stop me from re-defining the word in my own life?

“I’ve been fucking all day.”
“Watch your mouth, David!”
“What!? I didn’t get much fuck last night, so I thought I’d take a nap!”

Words are arbitrary. The number of definitions given to this word, largely considered profane, prove it. If someone says something that we may be offended by, it’s because of the meaning we give what was said, and not what was actually said that determines our response. Words mean nothing, yet. for some reason, such a high value is placed on them. One person could listen to a racially charged, profanity- laced tirade, get offended and try to get other people to get offended, while another could hear the same tirade, think, “What an idiot,” and move on. When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.

Art is the same way: one person may see a painting of a bowl of fruit while another may be moved to tears because of their family’s history of scurvy. Or they’re offended by pears. While watching The Departed with my parents, my mom would gasp every time someone said “fuck,” and, in turn, hated the movie because she missed out on the story to count “fucks.” What we draw from an external experience depends solely on the meaning we give it. No one actually likes to be hurt by words – negative emotions don’t feel good – but it’s the thoughts we think about what was said that impact our beliefs, which determine our attitude, which generates our feelings, which influence our actions, which directly define our reality. People who use hateful speech aren’t worth your time – giving them attention by criticizing their words just adds fuel to their intended hate. If words really hurt, take action by softening the blow. How? Swear with character and cuss with kindness. Since words and their definitions are man-made, change their meaning. Redefine fuck. For example:

-When someone says, “Fuck you,” define it as, “You embody the person I wish I was.”
-When you’re called an idiot, look at it as an opportunity to learn how to do something better.
-When someone calls you a “motherfucker,” assume they’re using “motherfucker” in place of the word “friend”, give them a wave and a smile, and go on with your day. Even if they mean to accuse you of fornicating with mothers, they’re not worth your time. Sticks and stones, right?

You can do it with your own words too! For example:

-Say, “Your dick is showing,” if you see someone’s tag peeking out from their shirt.
-When you see someone wearing a cool hat, say, “Nice hat, asshole,” then flash him a smile. You just said, “Nice hat, handsome.” Now that’s polite!
-When you see a couple with a newborn baby, tell the parents, “Oh, what a cunty baby girl!” Of course their newborn daughter is beautiful, and you complimented them using an adjective appropriate for the miracle of childbirth because that’s what “cunty” means to you.

No one likes being angry or feeling offended, but these feelings are a choice based on our programmed thoughts about something external that really has no value until we apply value to it. There’s more than one way to view a situation, so why not attach the meaning that makes you happiest?

Fuck you (have a great day)!

Nothing is Good or Bad

Pop quiz: label the following situations as either good or bad:

-A car accident
-A wedding between 2 people deeply in love with each other
-The Great Depression
-Winning the lottery
-A job promotion
-Death of a loved one
-The company you work for is downsizing
-A customer screams in your face about how poorly you’re doing your job
-You run into a long lost friend
-Someone spills hot coffee on your lap
-You buy a new car
-Smoking a cigarette after quitting for a year
-The Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl
-A sunny, 80-degree day with a slight breeze
-ISIS
-A baby’s first steps
-The car in the previously mentioned accident has 4 murderers inside and it crashes into a giant propane tank outside of a convention center hosting a murderer’s convention, and everybody dies in the ensuing explosion
-You’re confronted with a pop quiz when all you want to do is read a blog

No matter who you are, when you labeled the previous situations, you probably had a pretty good idea of what you would consider bad and what you would consider good. I’m also willing to bet that not everyone would agree on each one of these. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan may label a Browns Super Bowl victory as bad (and, let’s face it, would probably would label “death of a loved one” as good), a Buddhist monk may label the mass-murderer-massacre as bad, or you may love the burning sensation of scalding hot coffee on your crotch. The point I am trying to make is succinctly quoted by one of the most respected and brilliant minds throughout history, the Bard himself: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

“But I just got laid off from my job, that’s obviously a bad thing!”

I’m very sorry about your job, but let me reiterate: THERE IS NOTHING EITHER GOOD OR BAD, BUT THINKING MAKES IT SO. I know this is a difficult concept to entertain because we are raised and educated in a world where everything is either good or bad, but this is a linear way of thinking in a world where we are able to think without constraints. Ultimately, the determination of what is good and what is bad is subjective, proving that there is no consensus on what is truly good and what is truly bad. I could walk outside right now and say, “I love this crisp weather. Being able to see my own breath is hella cool,” while the person next to me says, “This weather is miserable… and also did you just say ‘hella cool?’” By attaching a good or bad label to something external, even though we’re both looking at the same thing, the experience we get from it is going to be completely different. Once we slap the almighty “good” or “bad” label onto something, our internal filters will only allow us to see the things that fall in line with that label. So He-Who-Hates-the-Cold, no matter what happens, will only find the things that make him miserable when it comes to winter. Whether he knows it or not, his labeling ensures his negative experience of winter. Meanwhile, He-Who-Loves-The-Cold will miss out on the negative and, thus, miss out on an opportunity to learn and grow. Labeling something as either X or Y causes us to miss out on all of the other letters of the alphabet.

“So if I don’t label things as good or bad, then what do I do? How will I live? Things have to be classified as something, otherwise what is there to live for?”

You’ll live better without this classification system. Another side effect of thinking in terms of good and bad is the fact that it brings pain into our lives. (Disclaimer: from this point forward, I will be putting quotes around the words “good” and “bad.”) At the end of every day, I used to pray and thank God for letting me have a “good” day. If I didn’t have a “good” day, I would skip that part of my prayer. To label something as good is to admit that there is a possible opposite, or a “bad,” and that if things can’t be labeled as “good,” then they’re “bad.” Because there’s a “bad” on the flip-side of the “good,” we live with a constant underlying fear of when the “good” goes away and the “bad” comes back. Because the laws of the universe state that like will always attract like, living in a state of fearing the “bad” grows that fear, and when we make choices in a state of fear, we create more of exactly what it is that we fear: the “bad.”

“So THAT’S why I lost my job. When I got promoted, it was good, but being so worried about losing money – or the bad – actually made me lose my job. How could I be so stupid??”

Actually, no. You didn’t lose your job because you were worried about the “bad.” You probably didn’t have any control over the fact that you lost your job, but the label you attach to it does affect what happens next.

“I want what happens next to be good- er- …well, you know what I mean. How do I stop labeling so I can do that?”

Even if we stop doing something, say a bad habit, it will always come back unless it is replaced by something else. Nothing is “good” or “bad,” but everything has, within it, an underlying good, or an opportunity, if you are looking for it. EVERYTHING. If something is labeled as “good” or “bad,” we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from it because we’ve already determined what that thing means to us. Subsequently, we resist the chance for growth. For example, with the Ferguson, Missouri incident, it is glaringly obvious who has labeled the outcome as “good” or “bad” because of their actions. Angry tweets, looting, protesting, arguing, etc. are the result of labels being attached to an external incident that we don’t have any control over. Because of this, many opportunities for growth are being missed and events like this will continue to occur. I realized the power of the underlying good when my aunt was murdered. It was easy to label the situation as “bad,” because a life was tragically lost. But I didn’t like the emotions that my labeling created, so I learned to see things differently. By looking for the opportunity to grow, I began to grasp the power of laughter. Because I chose to see a tragic situation, not in terms of black and white, but in terms of how I could improve myself in response to the situation, I began a journey into a career in comedy and as a writer. Without that powerful realization, you wouldn’t be reading this and I would probably be complaining on social networks along with everyone else.

It’s time to make a difference and this message must be spread. If we are to improve as a society, we must change our perspective first. Human beings aren’t made to think in terms of either or, we’re made to expand ourselves through critical thinking. By searching for the underlying good in every situation, our brains will filter out everything that won’t contribute to our growth, rather than everything that supports our “good” or “bad” labeling. Any time you hear yourself labeling something as “good” or “bad,” remember: There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Happy Thanksgiving