Spunky Old Broad Indeed!
Originally published February 2015; recent events helped me decide to post it here now.
***************Did you know that February is "Spunky Old Broads" month? I sure didn’t, but according to Claire LeSage, it is! And when I read her short piece, I laughed. I loved the vision I had of her mother, and all the other women I know that I could also call “spunky old broads” including Claire and me.
And yet that term – Spunky Old Broad – got me thinking. While I'm old enough to see the humor in it, it's still a label.
And labels can be so limiting.
This is something I have been teaching in my Communication Skills workshops for nearly 20 years:
Language matters. Labels matter.
How many of us had / have labels for our kids? Not necessarily negative ones, but labels just the same. We might have called one our “shy” child, another one our “bright” child, and even one who was “momma’s little helper.” The labels, which gave us a shorthand way of describing our kids, were not necessarily meant as criticism; many times they were meant as endearments.
The words we use to describe something or someone may become our reality, and they can have consequences, intended or not.
Even positive labels can cause harm. How many “bright” kids struggled to live up to that label? How many felt they were not good enough, that the prize was always just out of reach, that their perceived abilities should have given them even more success more easily? How many times did they hear something like "well, you should have known better" because we saw them as the "BRIGHT" ones? "No mistakes allowed" would have been the unspoken message.
Negative labels can have even worse consequences; studies have shown that kids routinely seen as dumb, do-nothings, or useless often don’t even try to succeed because they’re persuaded from their earliest days that it won’t matter. They often live "down" to their label.
Even neutral labels like "shy" or "quiet" can become self-fulfilling prophecies. "Shy" kids may understand what isn't being said: you don't need to speak, because you're shy. So they may grow up without finding their voice.Obviously, anyone may push against those labels and find their way beyond them. But for many, it becomes central to who they are or how they see themselves.
Bottom line: When we label ourselves or others, we narrow our perception and limit our ability to see the whole person. And what a shame that is. We are all complex human beings who are both good and bad, bright and dumb, nice and naughty.
Three ways to eliminate labeling
1. Look back at your own life. What words did your parents / teachers / friends use to describe you? What was accurate? Not true? What did you take with you into adulthood? What did you discard?
2. When you say or think of someone with a label, hear it. See it. Feel it. Question it. Does it accurately describe the whole person? Isn't she far more than that word or phrase you just used?
3. Go beyond the label. Talk with people -- deeply -- if you can. What are they really like? If you are social media friends and not face-to-face friends who often talk on the phone, read their blogs. There's so much more to these people than we might easily know.
Yes, I am a Spunky Old Broad -- sometimes. But not always. And that's the point.
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