Are you labelled?

Artist. ADDHD. Anorexic. Aboriginal.

Bipolar. Bikey.

Celebrity

Depression.

And the rest of the alphabet all the way to Xenophobe, Yankee and Zulu.

The human need for understanding, for wanting create order from chaos is manifested in our need to identify a cause for every effect. And we resort to labelling things to help us curate reality – sufficiently for it to make sense to us.

This can be a good thing. Labels can be an admission. Labels help us communicate better by simplifying things.

But mostly it can be a bad thing. The innate need may be satisfied, but the problem may not actually be solved.

Labels can lead to oversimplification of a complex reality. Labels provide a false (and maybe inappropriate) level of comfort that the problem is solved or understood.

But more problematically, I have experienced it often enough to consider it as common that there need to label things and thus identify the cause has much to do with our need to absolve ourselves.

If a kid can be labelled ADHD then the parents don’t have to feel guilty for raising a brat.

Somehow people seem to always suffer from depression and they are never simply tired or stressed.

I do not make light of mental health issues and it is important that people can raise it without any more fear of ridicule than someone would admit to having the flu. But I wonder if the widespread, seemingly spurious claims to these labels actually help or hinder the real sufferers.

This label malaise applies to businesses too. Consultants are used to find plausible causes. At performance review time we are conditioned to find a reason for not meeting the budget.

We spend a lot of time on finding and finetuning those labels that will serve well as an excuse. GFC might the finest label of all time. Again, it is not to say that a business wasn’t affected by the GFC.

In our business I also experienced a revenue decline in the years following the GFC, but I can never be certain that it isn’t because I readily took that excuse as a way out to stop doing certain things and start doing other things that had a bigger impact than the GFC possible had.

I would suggest it is prudent to think twice before we accept any old label as a valid ‘cause’ and consider instead whether we are simply yielding to our need to find cause that absolves us from our responsibility.