“Observation without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence.” — J. Krishnamurti 1895-1986, 1984 UN Peace Medal recipient.

Adelaide and I had a long chat this morning about observing and describing, without evaluating (labeling). This is a basic principal of mindfulness, found in the non-secular mindfulness movement, as well as in classic Buddhist texts, and we were prompted to talk about it while I was reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

For instance, we talked about someone who people we were around labeled as “crazy”. Mind you, it was difficult ourselves not to join in on the labeling. Was she “crazy” or did she do things we perceive are crazy? What’s the difference? What about something like being “accident prone”? Maybe she falls when she’s on a skateboard, but does that necessitate we give her a label? What’s the implication of being labeled?

We talked about how labeling can be helpful – for instance, “Tom’s a lawyer and Bill is a banker”, and how it can be hurtful – “Jane is crazy, Tina is an idiot”.

Here’s an interesting poem that I found in Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” (page 27):

“I’ve never seen a lazy man” by Ruth Bebermeyer

I’ve never seen a lazy man;
I’ve seen a man who never ran
while I watched him, and I’ve seen
a man who sometimes slept between
lunch and dinner, and who’d stay
at home upon a rainy day,
but he was not a lazy man.
Before you call me crazy,
think, was he a lazy man or
did he just do things we label “lazy”?

I’ve never seen a stupid kid;
I’ve seen a kid who sometimes did
things I didn’t understand
or things in ways I hadn’t planned;
I’ve seen a kid who hadn’t seen
the same places where I had been,
but he was not a stupid kid.
Before you call him stupid,
think, was he a stupid kid or did he
just know different things than you did?

I’ve looked as hard as I can look
but never ever seen a cook;
I saw a person who combined
ingredients on which we dined,
A person who turned on the heat
and watched the stove that cook the meat –
I saw those things but not a cook.
Tell me when you’re looking,
is it a cook you see or is it someone
doing things that we call cooking?

What some of us call lazy
some call tired or easy-going,
what some of us call stupid
some just call a different knowing,
so I’ve come to the conclusion,
it will save us all confusion
if we don’t mix up what we can see
with what is our opinion.
Because you may, I want to say also;
I know that’s only my opinion.

What happens when we label people? In my personal experience, I struggled reading as a kid. I was tutored by my neighbor, who used to serve as a principal of a primary school. For some reason, I labeled myself as “a bad reader”, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I spent some time talking to my friend Craig at Grassroots NLP a few years back and he brought up the limiting belief in that mantra. I didn’t read, not because I wasn’t interested, but because I didn’t think I could. Now, a few years later, I have a large library, and love reading a ton of disciplines.

Maybe that label was created by myself, or my environment. I’m not sure, but it was implanted into my brain, and it affect my way of thinking and operating. Is it possible that labeling others (smart, pretty, stupid, crazy, funny, etc) changes the way you perceive them, and therefore don’t let them be who they really are (which is a human, with basic human needs, living through what Dan Sullivan refers to as their “Unique Abilities”)?

It’s an interesting reframe and I’ll be working on it…