Fighting and killing over labels and how to give it up

The situation – we fight and kill over labels

The other day my wife and I ended up in a conversation talking about poverty.  Whilst the conversation started well it quickly ended up with each of us arguing/disputing against the other.  And quickly after that emotions became inflamed and our relationship a distant one for the rest of the evening.  What happened?

When I got thinking about it – during the night – I ended up laughing at the human condition, my condition.  My wife and I had ruined a perfectly good relationship where we felt connected to each other and were being respectful to each other simply over a label ‘poverty’.  What do I mean?  We ended up fighting because I said ” X is poor” and she replied “X is not poor”.  To which I replied that she did not understand poverty as she had not experienced it.  And as such she was wrong and that “X is poor!”  To which she replied that I was mistaken…..

So my wife and I ended up fighting over a label.  How stupid!  How human!  How often do I end up arguing with others over labels?  How often do you end up arguing with people over labels?  And what do we get out of it?  We argue, we raise our voices, we throw verbal assaults, we hit each other and ultimately we kill – all over labels!

When my children were young (less than eight years old) I would play a game with them.  They would make the statement along the lines of “X is good” or “Y is stupid” and I would offer them £1000 if they could show me good and stupid.  And of course they would show me X or Y.  In turn I would point out that they had shown me X and Y – not good or stupid.  Yet here I am 40+ years old falling into that trap myself all the time!

Which are our favourite labels?  They include: good, bad, right, wrong, true, false, me, you, us and them.  If you take a good look these labels and the cognitive and cultural structures that give rise to them are deeply embedded in our way of thinking and acting.  The bizarre thing is that these labels are all made up!  And I should know better than most people having grown up in two very different cultures.

How to give up fighting over labels

The other day one of the family members simply said somethign to the effect “You are critical / wrong / bad”.  Normally, I would tend to respond along the lines of “No, I am not!”  This time I simply said “Yes, I am critical / wrong / bad.” Guess what happened – nothing. The conversation came to an abrupt and peaceful end.  There was nothing for us to work on – to structure to continue the conversation and argue.

How did I end up there?  I simply got that when you make the statement “Maz you are bad” you are not describing reality.  No, you are giving me access to how I land for you in your world.  So your statement gives me access to the reality of your mind.  And who is the expert on your mind?  You are!  So if you say that “Maz you are bad” then I can simply say “Yes, you are correct.” because you are – in the way that that the world occurs to you.

Key insight: all statements are ultimately about how I see the world and not the world itself

The key takeaway is that most of us most of the time are not making statements about the world.  No. We are simply describing our world and how things land for us.  If we can get that then we can give up fighting and killing over labels.

Everything is a reflection of self, everything is mind

In April, I throughly enjoyed each and every day.  In April I was carefree, lighthearted, relaxed and totally in the present. And so I was present to the sunshine, the warmth, the grass and the plants blossoming into flower.  Every day was a joy.

Then yesterday I started thinking about stuff and ended up in the land of fear, uncertainty, doubt, concern and worry.  The day was equally beautiful and yet I did not experience the beauty.

Today, I was in a much better mood and really appreciated my day.  I sat in my garden and enjoyed the sunshine.  I walked around, looked at and marvelled at the flowers: blue, purple, white, yellow, orange, red…..Then in the afternoon I got some news that I did not welcome into my life.  And almost immediately I fell out of love with this day even though the sunshine was still there and the flowers were just as beautiful.

In the midst of all this I got present to a truth that was presented at Landmark Education:  the future you are living into gives you your being in the present.  And I got present to the Zen saying that ‘everything is mind’!

On significance and how it robs us of lightness, freedom and self-expression

We all want to be signficant – to be someone rather than anyone, to be looked up to rather than looked down on.  And most of us spend our lives striving for significance and in the process we carry a heavy burden – all the time.  The cost of this is huge.  Significance robs us of a lightness in being and the freedom to simply be and do as we wish without worry about how we will be viewed by others.  significance also robs us of the natural way that we learn – by doing, by messing up, by doing again differently, by messing up until we final achieve competence and mastery.

I noticed this in myself recently;  significance is a huge thing for me underneath the surface.  How did I get present to it?  Recently, I have been helping my son to post the local newspaper and this has meant me walking house to house and pushing this newspaper through letter boxes.  First, time I did this I felt uneasy.  Second time I did this I felt uneasy.  And today I did it for the third time and noticed that I was secretly pleased that most of the houses were empty.  Why?  Because I did not want people to see me doing what I was doing: shoving newspapers through doors.  And why did that matter?  Because I had made a story about it: it is a low status activity done by low status people and so forth.

Interestingly, when I saw this I was able to give it up.  When I gave it up I was able to take my time rather than rush and by taking my time I enjoyed the experience.  I actually enjoyed being outside in the sunshine.  I enjoyed looking at the plant and especially the flowers in the different gardens.

I wonder in how many other ways I am being signficant or driven to be significant and so have a loss of freedom, of lightness, of playfulness and simply being fully expressed?  How about you?  Where does this show up for you?  And is the bargain that we have made and continue to make worth it?

Personally, I am up for trading in significance for freedom of being and self-expression.  And there is a long road ahead: addiction, especially when it is so subtle, can be difficult to give up.

The world is only as wondrous as I am open to see the wonder of it

Yesterday, as a family, we went to visit Greys Court for the afternoon.  In total there were five of us and I am confident that each of us experienced the ‘place’ according to ourselves.  Put differently, each of us experienced ourselves.    This became obvious to me as soon as I gave Clea (who is ten years old) a camera and she dived into the world around her. Here are some examples:

a. Where I saw a weed Clea saw a beautiful flower:

b.  Where I saw tiny dying (insignificant) Bluebells Clea marvelled at the wonder of these Bluebells

c.  Where I saw nothing Clea saw beauty everywhere – in a T-shirt, in a set of buttons on her mothers top, in the grass:

Lessons Learnt

My already existing, always, way of being is not open to wonder.  It simply is not.  And so I miss the beauty, the wonder, of what is present around me in the simplest things.  If I approached the world, from the context, that my daughter approaches it then I would experience the beauty of the world that she experiences.  I am totally up for that.

I need to start somewhere so I will become an ‘Apprentice in Wonder’ to my Clea by looking at the world through her eyes.  That means giving her a camera so that she can capture what she sees and share that with me.  It also means being open to the new.

I have started a (daily) gratitude journal to enable me to capture one aspect of the wonder/beauty of this world that I simply miss because I do not look for it / am not present to it as I take it for granted.  You can find it here: