Intentional About Default Labeling

Labels are a tool created by our evolved brains to quickly identify threats and rewards within fractions of a second. You can imagine how this came in handy for our earlier ancestors. Predator = run or defend IMMEDIATELY.

Applying labels to today – we identify objects in general that are very tall, woody, with limbs and leaves as ‘tree’. We begin to slow our car’s speed in plenty of time once we identify the common attributes of a stop sign even before we can read the word “stop” due to the same prejudicially efficient cognitive mechanisms.

What if labels didn’t exist? We thought identifying the appropriate public restrooms became complicated in 2016, but imagine… I digress.

Labels trade efficiency for nuance affording better communication and quicker decisions. It’s a great concept in almost all applications save for one – our fellow species. Consider the following recent labelling situations:

  • Are you an anti-vaxxer?
  • Do you support wearing a mask in public?
  • Do boomers or millennials have a better approach to the new economy?
  • Do all vendors have the same selfish goals and apply the same labels to customers?

TL;DR: Labeling objects is efficient. Labelling people is restrictive and often penalizes both parties. Our peers are complex assets when understood and appreciated for their nuances and unique contributions to the cause.

As a final thought, labels applied are labels received. When we meet our peers over video and at conferences, consider being mindful about which labels we automatically assign. Likewise work to intentionally question which labels from others we might otherwise blindly accept. This complex mechanism is our evolved brain’s natural Default Mode Network hard at work so forgive yourself and others when we inevitably slip-up.

But don’t reassess as you approach a stop sign. It’s okay to be prejudice A.F. with those. #ProTip