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You are Not a Label

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.   —Maya Angelou

There is no denying that love and honesty poured forth from poet and author, Maya Angelou, with words that seemed to be chosen with the utmost care. One of her many gifts was the ability to deliver a negative message with a delicacy that softened its potential to wound.

Suffice it to say, we are not all gifted in that realm. Far too frequently, we choose our words with insufficient awareness of the full impact of their message on an individual or a group of individuals. I’m not speaking of the times this is done intentionally, but rather, I am referring to the times it is done unintentionally.

Let me give you one example. You have undoubtedly heard the words, “He (or she) is not educated,” when referring to a person who did not continue studies beyond high school. Synonyms for the word educated include: informed, knowledgeable, enlightened, literate, and well-read, to name just a few. “She is not enlightened.” “He is not knowledgeable.” “He is not educated.” The choice of words with this simple statement places a label on a person that infers, “They’re not smart,” or even “They’re dumb.”

In my dealings with under-served community members, many individuals have said to me, “I can only do [extremely low-skilled manual labor] because I’m not educated.” Head hung, shoulders hunched, and faces resolute, their body language spoke volumes their words did not—because for decades they accepted a label that stunted and limited their potential. Can a person see beyond the label they wear? In this example, the answer was no. Most could not accept that learning transcends the formal academic progression; that it is a perpetual expansion of the mind, and a relentless curiosity that breeds the desire to grow in knowledge and wisdom. If one cannot get that in the classroom, they can still obtain it throughout their lives. For too long, they believed otherwise.

A better phrasing might be “He did not continue his education beyond high school.” But, let’s face it, who can be this impeccable with their words? These days, especially, when tensions in our communities are running high, it would be helpful to keep in mind:

We cannot choose how a message reaches us. We can however, choose the way in which we respond—and we can choose what we allow in.

Being wrongly labeled has no power over you unless it triggers something deep within you where you believe there is truth to the words. With this, the choice in how you respond begins: You may choose to respond in like manner, saying or displaying through action, something offensive in return. You may even choose to publish your reactive response in an online forum to your social media contacts, who can then add their own insults, thus creating a cycle of negativity that hangs like a toxic cloud around all involved. Or you may choose to not let that label stick to you.

What is important to note, is that it is your choice – and no one can be responsible for it but you.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • First, when a person intentionally makes a remark that is perceived as offensive, it is almost always based on something they feel about themselves and are projecting on another. This is not about you; it is entirely about them.
  • Two, no earthly being has the right to judge you. Period. End of discussion.
  • Three, the moment you choose to accept a negative thought or word, and give it permission to stick to you, you make it real. You give it a power it would not otherwise have. Motivational speaker Pamela Meyer says this about the spoken lie, “Lying is a cooperative act… a lie has no power whatsoever by its mere utterance. Its power emerges when someone else agrees to believe the lie.” It is the same with an offensive comment or label.  Like all your other choices, the option to give it power resides entirely within you. Conversely, the choice to disarm it resides within you as well.

Pay attention to your inner response and use the awareness of it to determine what exists within you that would give their words a morsel of validity. See this as a chance to learn, grow, and gain insight into an area within you that might need addressing. That’s a positive, isn’t it?

If that space within you doesn’t exist, and the label doesn’t resonate with you, then the most effective way to disarm the label of its power is by ignoring it completely. Better still, use it as a motivator to do or say something good. The only way to cancel out negative energy is to convert it to positive or the cycle will continue endlessly. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Keep the positive thoughts flowing and that label will not stick.

You will be amazed at how freeing it is to know that the choice is within your own power, not theirs.

In closing, never forget that in all parts of your life, in every thought you have, in every interaction, you are the chooser. You have a choice to let a person’s wrongful judgment, attach to you or fall away. You have the choice to let your thoughts empower you or limit you. You have the choice to perpetuate a cycle of negativity, or break it and convert it to positive. You have a choice to move forward in knowledge and enlightenment or stay stagnant. Don’t let life’s choices come from the voices around you, let them come from the pureness of the light and love within you — be a warrior for that light. Reject the label, make the choice that converts the negative to a positive and witness the empowerment within you expand.

No matter what is happening around you, let your choice be love and light.

Peace and Blessings