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?

The Myth of the Pursuit of Happiness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Declaration of Independence lately, and what really grinds my gears is the misinterpretation of what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.” They key word there is “pursuit.” When we think of pursuit, we tend to picture a coyote strapping himself to the back of an ACME rocket and hurtling at hundreds of miles an hour into a solid painting of a desert backdrop. Have you ever read Shakespeare and thought, “This is supposed to be a classic, but I can’t understand a damn thing anyone is saying!”? 400 years ago, the English language wasn’t the same vernacular we use today, so there’s a bit of a barrier. If I were to go into a nursing home with a megaphone and tell everyone to get “turnt up,” any number of things could happen, but chances are, their version of “turnt up” has to do with adjusting the volume knob of the color television set. Believe it or not, the Declaration of Independence isn’t a big deal anymore, probably because things that are over 240 years old tend to go out of style. Like the powdered wig I wore on a blind date (Helpful hint: girls like updated wardrobes). “Pursuit” is one of those words that has multiple definitions and the emphasis has shifted from one definition to another over time. The definition of pursuit that Tom was referring to had nothing to do with chasing after something. He was referring more to definition number three instead of definitions number one or two on dictionary.com:

noun
1. the act of pursuing :
in pursuit of the fox.
2. an effort to secure or attain; quest:
the pursuit of happiness.
3. any occupation, pastime, or the like, in which a person is engaged regularly or customarily:
literary pursuits.

While, yes, we are trying to secure happiness, the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence refers more to the occupation or the creation of happiness. Where we misinterpret the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness” is in assuming that happiness is something that can be chased after and attained by completing a goal, having possessions, or seeing that the girl you’re going on a blind date with is also wearing a powdered wig. But what happens when these things are taken away? What happens when we don’t reach a goal? We lose out on that happiness. That’s not authentic happiness. Pursuing happiness is creating happiness from within. Even if we don’t complete our goals, get lots of money and possessions, or have a romantic relationship, we still maintain that joy inside of us because we’ve made the decision to create it for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned by society to believe that we’ll “be happy when…” This pisses me off, which isn’t very happy of me, but this idea is wrong in two key ways. First things first: this statement is an admission to ourselves that we’re not happy now. Hypothetically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Now realistically, if you have the choice to be happy or not, what would you choose? Here’s the thing: we have that choice. We make the decision to be happy. We may think that external events dictate whether we should be happy or not, but the decision comes from within. Yes, it is normal to feel emotions other than happiness, but when we make the decision to pursue (read: create) happiness now, bringing happiness to our experiences instead of trying to extract happiness from them becomes automatic. To exude happiness not only makes our experience of the world a much more positive one, it also enhances the experience of those around us. The other major flaw of the “I’ll be happy when…” premise is that once we achieve that goal, purchase that Maserati, or start dating the person we’ve been after, we begin wanting more. It’s human nature. Once we achieve that goal, we want to do more, once we buy that car, we want something else, and once we start dating, we grow, change, and start looking for more in the relationship. Therefore, we may feel “happiness” at first, but once we set our sights on something else, “we’ll be happy when…” again. It becomes an endless cycle and we keep chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and chasing, and…

Happiness is our natural state of being, but it’s hidden by layer upon layer of conditioning. Chasing after happiness is like those people we hear about in the news who sell priceless antiques worth millions at a garage sale to make a few bucks. We have all of the happiness we need inside of us already, but we distract ourselves by looking elsewhere to be happy. If we believe that pursuing happiness “out there” will actually bring us happiness, we’ve just signed our lives away to a fictitious concept and the thing we’re after becomes impossible to reach. We become Sisyphus and are stuck rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity. The purpose of life is to create for ourselves, not chase after something that is impossible to catch. Pursue happiness the way it is meant to be pursued: create it from within and get off the back of that ACME rocket – those things never work right anyway.