Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Danger of Labeling

In conversation with a friend recently, we talked about our natural tendency to classify people or put them into “boxes.” We take a look at a pastor and try to find indicators of where he (or she) fits theologically—books read, schools attended (and when), conferences attended, known associates, etc. We readily admitted that this often cuts off opportunities to get to know the person as an individual. I compare it to an entomologist who has become so interested in properly classifying an insect that he neglects to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the creature.

In his book entitled Never Call Them Jerks, Arthur Paul Boers offers a listing of the dangers of “labeling” others. To mention just a few of these:

Labeling can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, when one is identified as a “trouble-maker,” the person often proceeds to create problems.

Labeling is judgmental. This is a paternalistic rather than an objective action. It dehumanizes a person.

Labeling makes it easier to write off others’ concerns. It obstructs the opportunity to see another’s perspective and to learn from it.

Labeling hurts healthy process. It cuts off healthy dialogue.

Labeling can be a disguise for projection. We see in others what we may try to overlook in ourselves. Christ warned against this when he talked about “criticizing the speck in our brother’s eye and ignoring the log in our own” (Matthew 7:4-5, paraphrase).

In our efforts to determine who is “moderate” and who is “conservative” those of us who are Fellowship Baptists may fail to extend fellowship to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we remember how some of us were treated in the past? Of course we do, but we don’t have to adopt the same behavior. Let’s not be too quick to close the doors to new friends, new relationships, and new opportunities.

No comments: