Labels: The Diminution of Confidence

This question of labels and confidence arose when I was reading the book, The Righteous Mind, in which the author, Jonathan Haidt, explores the differences between conservatives and liberals. His subtitle, “Why good people are divided by politics and religion” is a telling tale.

The use of the labels, conservative and liberal, invites divisiveness. Labels create presumptions about others’ beliefs including the presumption that those beliefs are so deeply entrenched as to be intractable.


We are all, at times, liberal or conservative in our thinking. Like confidence, these attitudes are spectral and situational. The spectrum runs from ultra conservative to ultra liberal. Where we fit on that spectrum at any point in time depends upon the situation (issue) we’re facing.

Dispensing with labels

When we stop labeling others’ beliefs, we tend to view them as open-minded people who have a different perspective than we do. Because we view these people as rational human beings, albeit with a different take on the subject at hand, and our conversation is focused on:

  • Finding areas of agreement, rather than those of difference.
  • Of respecting others’ rights to their beliefs…even when we don’t agree.
  • Being heard without feeling compelled to convince.

We’re more likely to find common ground which allows us to move forward without fear, anxiety and frustration. In other words, more confidently.

Holding onto labels

Let’s contrast that with what happens when we label others. We tend to form judgments about them. That’s often followed by the attitude that we’re right and they’re wrong. That attitude compels us to point out the error of their ways, which triggers defensiveness in the other party.

As they turn the table on us and try to convince us that they’re right and we’re wrong, we become defensive as well. Now neither of us is looking for a solution…for common ground. We’re each wanting to win the argument. Something that’s virtually impossible as long as we both believe that we’re right and the other party’s position has no legitimacy.

This kind of discussion, one based on labels, usually results in both parties leaving angry and frustrated by the experience. Each is equally convinced that the other is either a moron or so stubborn as to be impossible to deal with. Game over…game lost…to both parties.

We also take a hit to our confidence because we not only failed to persuade the other person to our way of thinking, the problem persists. And we know, at least subconsciously, that the problem will persist as long as we can’t bring the other person around to our way of thinking.

For you

If it’s more important to you to be right than to find a solution, my heart goes out to you. You are destined to have a miserable existence.

If, on the other hand, you choose to:

  • Stop labeling others
  • Stop judging them or their ideas
  • Respect their right to their beliefs even though they differ from yours

the two of you will find solutions to any challenge you face.

In addition, you’ll see the good in others which often leads to life-long friendships. Your life will be blessed with harmony, joy and deep friendships. All you need to do is stop labeling and listen with an open mind.

For our kids

When you hear kids using labels, ask them “When you call a person [label], what does that conjure up in your mind?” Then ask “How is that going to help you get the solution  you want?” The kids in your life will soon come to realize that they control outcomes by the approach they use when dealing with others…especially those who don’t agree with them.

Just as importantly, live the message. Stop using labels. Instead look for common ground. Kids mimic the behaviors of the adults in their lives. It’s a simple way to help them avoid the fears, anxiety and frustrations so many endure…all of their own creation. You cannot give your kids a more priceless gift than the gift of confidence…especially the confidence to produce a solution among those with disparate beliefs.

By the way, this applies to all labels, not just conservative and liberal.

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