Complementary Labels

Posted by Jacinta Hin on February 6, 2007

This morning I caught myself labeling people. I was sitting on the train playing my favorite game to pass the time during my many Tokyo commutes: looking at the people in front of me one by one and passing judgment – she is pretty, he is boring, he has no style, she is plain, he is the quiet type.

We do it all the time. We stereotype. It helps us create some kind of order in the world around us. Thinking somebody is such-and-such kind of person helps us to relate to that person in a pre-determined way. It also helps us define ourselves since we experience ourselves as being different from that person.

Our preferred labels are the negative ones. We love the accusatory and judgmental style. It makes us feel better (off) than the other person. It confirms the standards and values we have adopted for ourselves.

We like to do it to others, especially in the negative way, but we like it less when others do it to us.

When friends back home tell me I am acting so Japanese I feel I am being accused of betraying my Dutch roots. When my friends in Japan joke about my free-spiritedness (she is Dutch after all) I worry I might have weak morals.

The negative stereotyping tends to invalidate us. It makes us sensitive to our weaknesses and attacks our self-esteem. It can be very hurtful. It keeps us stuck in limiting beliefs about ourselves. We take these over and start stereotyping our own behavior in similar ways.

Yet those negative labels others grace us with are really great clues to our uniqueness, our strengths, preferences and talents.

The other day I did a little experiment with one of my coaching clients. She had a hard time coming up with her strengths. I asked her to tell me what negative things people were saying about her. She came up with an interesting list. Than I asked her what each negative told her about herself from a positive perspective.

She quickly got it and within minutes we had reversed “liberal” (in her world regarded as a negative) to self-responsible and independent, and “does not think” into open to new things. She also discovered she is an excellent listener, a challenger, curious, and somebody who makes sure to be knowledgeable before speaking up.

Next time you hear the negatives coming your way, turn them around and dig behind what they are really telling you.

My “japanization” is telling me I am forever evolving and expanding my world. My free-spirited behavior really confirms that freedom is a core value and absolute condition to feel that I am living to the fullest.

Perhaps stereotyping others is not such a bad habit and being stereotyped is the best compliment you can get.

And now I think about it, my train game really comes from my curiosity about people, which is after all a strength of mine.


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2 Comments so far
  1. justfiverules February 10, 2007 7:56 am

    Hi Jacinta,

    Re: The experiment with the coaching client and reversing the negative labels – sounds a great way to enable the client to observe her “labels” from different perspectives.

    I wonder what she would make of repeating those statements with eyes closed and ears plugged? (as per the Charlie Badenhop Seishindo exercise). It was a very powerful experience for me to hear myself as others do..!

    BTW – Congratulations on the web site!
    Looking good for take off.



  2. Anna Rodgers December 10, 2010 9:58 am

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