What Grandma taught me about labels, categories and judgments
April 5, 2016
Labels can be useful! Without them, how would we know which can of soup to reach for? Labels serve as a kind of shorthand way to categorize things or people.
In the therapy world, we understand that a diagnosis such as “Depression, moderate, recurrent” means that the person is experiencing a fairly standard set of symptoms. This allows us to focus on a short list, which saves time and can help us to be effective.
However, the very use of a label can also exclude the whole multi-dimensional person. This is one of the reasons that I have chosen not to be affiliated with any insurance companies. It frees me to skip the check-box diagnosis and devote myself to the whole person.
In the generation and family that I grew up in, labeling and categorizing was common. We lived with my grandmother while I was growing up, so I got to know her pretty well. Grandma had many wonderful qualities. She was a hard worker (she worked as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, and would need to get there early to start the fire in the pot-belly stove so that they’d have heat), a pretty good cook (we still love her spaghetti casserole recipe), smart enough to be a good bridge player and she stayed well informed through reading the paper every day. I can only hope to have inherited some of her wonderful qualities.
Like many people in her generation, Grandma’s first response when she saw or heard about someone was to ask a labeling or categorizing question like, “What nationality is he?” “How old is she?” But, also like many people in her generation – and sadly, in ours too – her brain had been trained to take the next step after labeling and categorizing – to judging.
When does labeling and categorizing become judging? I believe that it is when there is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ attached to it. Grandma would follow up the ‘category’ questions with comments on the person’s appearance or what she perceived their personal characteristics might be.
Not something that’s easy to admit, but I sometimes found myself thinking along Grandma’s lines. As a young adult, it worried me that the way that she had been taught to judge was also passed onto me. So in my early 20’s I made a conscious decision to focus on what is good and admirable about each person I met. While this was a challenge at first, as I persevered, it became a natural way of being for me. And it sure feels better than the old way!
A few years ago I took a course called the Voice for Love. This technique teaches us how to speak with the Voice of the Holy Spirit, which is, of course, Love. It is not a psychic reading, but rather a sharing of a loving perspective. Recently, I did a short sharing for someone, and the Voice for Love (VfL) asked her why she was judging herself against others.
With the VfL, we can ask about almost anything, and will receive a wonderful, heart-centered answer. Inspired by the question the VfL had posed to this person, I decided to ask, ‘Please teach me about judgment.’ The VfL replied, and then we had a short dialogue:
VfL: Most precious and holy child, I am with you always. Beloved, your world has divided itself into categories and subcategories, on and on until the smallest parameter is reached. In these you place yourself as if in a restraining cubicle. As you look around you, you see neither sideways nor backwards, only in front of you. How you have misused your ability to connect with those around you. Beloved, when you place someone in a cubbyhole, you no longer have connection with them. As each person is a part of Me, you then lose connection with all that is. The sweetness of life is drained away.
When you observe a person, a situation, an event, my precious children, I ask you to see through the eyes of the beloved.
Me: So if people are in cubbyholes, then some are above and some are below others; some are far away and some are closer.
VfL: Thus you are deceiving yourself, for truly all souls are equal in the eyes of the Lord. You see a fraction of a moment of a soul’s life, how can you judge on this? It is as if you were looking through a pinhole in a window. The covering is over your own eyes. As you purify yourself, you slowly remove that dark covering, and behold, the true picture begins to emerge.
Me: I recently came across a teaching* that gave me a wonderful short prayer to help with this. When meeting, talking to or thinking about someone, I silently say, “May you be blessed.”
VfL: As you do this, you will widen the lens through which you are looking. For truly, all are loved.
*From one of my beloved spiritual teachers: Matt Kahn’s teachings can be found at www.TrueDivineNature.com