Last weekend, I read Freedom, The Courage to be Yourself – Insight for a New Way of Living by Osho.*
Osho’s ideas provoked thoughts about limiting mindsets and where they come from:
Do you believe you are a belief system? Maybe more than one?
Maybe you believe you are a Poor, Democratic, Environmentalist, Buddhist, Feminist.
Maybe you believe you are a Middle Class, Republican, Capitalist, Christian, Conservative.
We carry far more labels than those, don’t we? And most of them are a ball and chain we apply to ourselves.
My eyes opened to the destructive nature of belief based labeling when I ran for the Minnesota State House of Representatives as a Republican. About 30% of the people I met despised me and another 30% loved me without knowing anything about me or what I planned to do if elected. They cared only about the R or D next to my name. It was easy to accept the unconditional praise (even though it should have scared the shit out of me), but the categorical rejection was frightening. Whenever someone instantly rejected me because of the label I had chosen, I thought… I bet this person would vote for me if he took the time to understand who I am and what I am trying to accomplish. But he couldn’t see who I was because the label invoked powerful negative emotions which prevented him from actually seeing and hearing me.
At our very core, we are not belief systems, we are distinct individuals governed by our own free will and we can choose to believe anything we wish.
You are not poor – you choose to believe you are poor.
You are not rich – you choose to believe you are rich.
You are not middle class – you choose to believe you are middle class.
You are not a Christian – you choose to believe what Christ taught.
You are not an Atheist – you choose to believe there is no God.
You are not a Democrat – you choose to agree with Democratic politicians and vote for them.
You are not a Republican – you choose to agree with Republican politicians and vote for them.
While you are not required to be consistent with labels, a lifetime of cultural programming, fear of hypocrisy, and a desire for group approval can enslave you in the name of consistency. These labels are not your identity because your identity is not a consistent set of beliefs. It is something that is constantly growing and changing, so struggling to be consistent stifles your growth.
You are not Black or White or Latino or Anglo or any other label. I defy anyone to show me where Black starts and White ends or where Anglo starts and Latino ends. You can choose to label yourself or to label others but they are only words that categorize or separate us. It is no different than if you lived on 1st Street and someone chooses to change the name to 1st Avenue. The road is still the same. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is what it is and calling it a Street or an Avenue is a choice, but its individual essence defies all labels and its interconnectedness to all other things defies separateness.
I understand that labels can help us better understand the world at high levels of abstraction, but more often they are used to separate us, enslave us, or pit us against each other in bloody wars.
Sociologists may decide to label you this demographic or that demographic, but that decision has no bearing on what you really are, because what you really are defies all labels.
And you can choose to believe that too.
* Osho’s ideas are controversial and I do not agree with everything he’s said or done, especially some of the more radical stuff. But he has an amazing mind that challenges convention in a refreshing way. His ideas will make you think differently about the world.