If you asked my three best friends to describe me, I think you’d probably get variations of:
- smart – I’m comfortable with that, I think I’ve earned it
- funny – I still think humor is impossible to define, and wouldn’t argue with someone who said I wasn’t funny
- generous – Not sure but I’m doing my best
- tall – guilty
But those probably aren’t the first terms I’d use to describe myself. Maybe you’d find yourself disagreeing with your own three best friends, maybe not.
I’ll tell you why I ask.
Labels as identity
In the very recent past, I’ve met a lot of individuals who insist on telling me that they are “outspoken” people. That they “speak their mind” at all costs and “won’t change” for anything or anyone.
There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface. It’s hard to claim that you have strong convictions if you can’t/won’t defend them and speak your mind.
But here’s the pattern I’ve been seeing with these outspoken individuals. They have fallen so in love with the idea of themselves as being outspoken that they are going out of their way to prove it, whether there’s anything worth being outspoken about.
This idea has become so entrenched in their identity that they can’t abide the thought that someone might not consider them outspoken. And that becomes arguing for the sake of arguing.
As a wee teen
When I was a super-hardcore (yawn) teenager with a heavy metal band, I said “I don’t care about anything” way too often. And because I said it so often, it became true to me. As that sinister dung beetle Joseph Goebells said: “If you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.”
And because it was true to me, I began looking for ways to prove that “I didn’t care about anything.”
How tiresome. I didn’t have the tools to explain my feelings very well. So I substituted ability for repetition. And then I was on autopilot.
And that’s what I hear when these people began harping at things, seemingly without even knowing why–they are on autopilot because they have allowed themselves to believe in labels.
My friend Brad Nelson, when lecturing on the ills of Pop Tarts and Licorice, says “If something has a label on it, that something can be marketed to you.”
Qualities that matter
I’ve never had a charismatic person remind me that they were charismatic. Kind people don’t usually go around blowing the kindness tuba in everyone’s face. Integrity, excellence, strength and mastery, great height (WINK!), compassion, empathy–these are the kinds of attributes our friends often give us which we may never feel quite as comfortable giving ourselves.
If you have a label you identify with, is it sending the message you want to send?
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