If I am being honest, I have always made sweeping, generalised judgements based on “labels” that apply to people. I would like to think that I use this as a first filter sift and that once I get to know somebody then I can adapt and change my initial stereotypical views!
Generally, rather than worry about this I think of it as a pragmatic approach to filtering the large amount of information I am exposed to each day. However, since having to bring up an Autistic/Aspie boy and another with ADHD I have had to review this approach to filtering and sorting people by “type” or “label”.
I think this has allowed me to be more tolerant and open-minded when seeing or meeting others.
From what I have read and understand of the way the human mind works this in tribe or out of tribe initial assessment has been useful from an evolutionary perspective (better to err on the side of caution when meeting strangers). In modern day society this is not as important for our survival as it was in the past, however I think it is important to be aware of snap-judgements as they can still keep us safe.
The skill which I am trying to develop is to acknowledge these quite often emotional and gut-based messages and then to balance them with my knowledge and experience of how things are likely to be.
I think what I am basically trying to say here is that the lived experience and context of each person I meet is usually more reflective of who they are.
When applied to my own family I can frame some of our experiences with labels and they feel different (even to myself) depending on how they are described.
I will try and illustrate this below:-
“The police were called to a domestic incident involving a teenage boy. The Autistic teenager also suffers from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and has not attended school for 6 months. He has self-harmed and threatened violence towards others. His parents seem incapable of controlling his outbursts.”
The above reminds me of the way a tabloid newspaper would report an incident. If we expanded the story and put it into context then maybe it would read like this:-
“Despite their best efforts the parents of a 13 year old child (who has recently been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome by two Psychiatrists) had to summon the assistance of the police to support an Autistic meltdown as they feared for the safety of the boy and the rest of the family. They are working together with mental health professionals to determine what events and environments are likely to lead to the boy’s meltdowns.”
The boy’s school has been tremendously supportive and in conjunction with the Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) from the school it was decided that some time away from school would be beneficial for the boy and his family. Home tutors and online tuition has been set up to support him.”
Wow, what a different perspective to the same situation!
Whenever I feel my own gut reactions and prejudices arise in my head I try to re-frame them in a similar style to the example given above.
So, I think of a label as the starting point and general direction of travel.
Be kinder in my judgement of others (I don’t know the full story).
In fact, my wife and I have both changed our perspectives on this and we actually have the following quote hanging on our living room wall:-
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always