Are labels relevant?

I was recently asked why my generation (Gen Y) feels “so entitled”. Short of being a little taken aback by such a direct question, it got me thinking about the labels we use to understand the world around us. It seems commonplace these days to immediately conclude that labelling people is bad, unfair, and judgmental. I won’t deny that labelling people has been used in negative ways throughout history; however, I will make the case for using labels to better understand the world around us and how we experience it. 

As human beings, we use mental shortcuts to process what we experience in the world. Have you ever edited a piece of your own writing, only for someone else to later point out that a word is missing? Our mind automatically fills in things like missing words in order to make sense of what we are reading. We use shortcuts like this in order to get by; if we were to thoroughly and completely evaluate every word, person, and experience that crossed our paths, there wouldn’t be time for much else. 

What I’m trying to get at is that it is normal, and even healthy, to make these types of shortcuts in our mind. Where it breaks down, is when we take them at face value. The way that we process our experience is dependent on our experiences and worldview, and we often make incorrect or misleading assumptions about the world around us. One way to increase our self-awareness and broaden our view is not to ignore labels, but to embrace them. 

The person who asked me about my generation is a prime example. Was he was making a generalization about my generation based on his personal experience? Yes. However, more importantly, he was hoping whatever insight I might have would help him better understand someone he works with. Obviously the “Gen Y’er” he works with is not exactly like me or exactly like other people in our generation, but generations are indeed shaped to some degree by our experience and worldview and can provide some insight into why people behave the way that they do. 

While many believe that a label is a limiting way of seeing other people, I personally have seen labels as powerful ways of opening up how we see other people. 

Krysty Wideen is a learning and organizational development consultant with The Refinery Leadership Partners, based in Vancouver. Failing to leave her day job at work, she often finds herself relating every day, commonplace observations and activities to insights about leadership, business, human resources, and anything, really. Now she has a place to share her observations and insights.


4 Responses

  1. Labelling and stereotyping are part of what it means to be human. Certainly this is the way we make sense of the people and situations that we encounter- it is human nature to generalize. Sometimes this makes more sense than others, and I think it does no harm as long as we are aware that we do it. For example, if you know that you often stereotype gen-yers as entitled or lazy, that’s fine as long as you are aware it is a stereotyope and do not allow this generalization to influence a hiring decision. Labels are definitely limiting, but we can work beyond that as long as we recognize it for what it is.

    Out of curiousity, what did you tell him?

  2. Hi Renee,

    Thank you for the comments! You are right, it’s human nature and the healthiest thing to do is to recognize your tendencies to check your assumptions.

    I told him that the textbook definition would probably give his comment a fair bit of clout. Many parents of Gen Yer’s were dual income so they likely had more disposable income than previous generations to spend on their kids, so I’ve read. Also, I do agree that many people in my generation are willing to speak up and ask for what we want, which could come off as being entitled. On the other hand, I know many people my age (myself included) who are willing to work hard, put in the time, and truly devote ourselves to a company we believe in. I guess my answer was that his comment was fair, but there is always a bigger story.

  3. […] if you’ve been following my blogging since the beginning, that I am certified in the MBTI (Are labels relevant) and enjoy drawing insights from assessments (see my reflections about the EQ) that build […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: