Lose the labels that limit you

As I wrote in my last post, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that each of us has innate brilliance. And I often tell delegates on my training courses that we are all magnificent works in progress. When we deeply respect others, we get this point and are able to see their potential, (even though right now they may be manifesting more of their dark side than their brightness.) This approach makes for more harmonious families at home, more productive departments at work, more forgiving friendships in the pub and better football teams on a Saturday morning.

As Daisaku Ikeda explains: “We are unlimited beings. Our struggle to surmount our obstacles and sufferings and fulfil our dreams is always finally the struggle to overcome the limitations we have accepted within our own heart.”

Pic by Melson Diniz, SGI Brazil
Photo: Melson Diniz, SGI Brazil

The problem is that we’re hardwired to stereotype and label people, including ourselves. “He’s a complete jerk.” “She’s a total angel.” “They’re utter idiots.” Perhaps this sort of stereotyping served us well in our prehistoric days, when survival depended on deciding very quickly that a sabre-toothed tiger was always bad news, with no shades of grey… But in the modern age, when we use negative labels to describe people we’ve argued with, we prolong the rift and block the seeds of hope from which forgiveness and progress can bloom. (See a previous post called ‘The two words to ban from all your arguments.

But all of us are capable of evil and of good. A ‘cruel murderer’ can come home and show compassion to his children, a ‘kind nurse’ can come home from work and be aggressive to her family. As Nichiren says: “Even a heartless villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the bodhisattva world within him.” 

It’s only our untrusting obsession with certainty that wants to put people in these boxes and keep them there, to label someone as a complete hero, a complete zero or a total villain. And of course we tend to buy newspapers whose editors choose which stories to publish based on these black and white clichés and stereotypes – every story needs a goodie and a baddie, after all.

Labels describe your past, not your potential

We even do it in business and although psychometric tests do have value in terms of identifying strengths and weaknesses, people can too easily label themselves as a ‘Finisher’ or a ‘Plant’ or a ‘passive-aggressive’ or whatever moniker the computer churns out. In fact I recently coached someone on presentation skills who was convinced she would always have a problem with public speaking because a personality test had labelled her an ‘Introvert’. Likewise I found it interesting to discover that on the Myers-Briggs test I am an ‘ENFP’ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) but ultimately I feel that such labels are better at describing our past than our potential.

Somewhere along the line I also labelled myself as ‘not technical’ and ‘not good with IT.’ This belief (illusion as it turns out…) stopped me for months from beginning my Buddhist social media adventure. I chanted for hours to break through this and realised that my reluctance to Tweet, blog and facebook was really to do with a fear of expressing myself as me – after all I had earned my living in PR by writing words for other people. After nearly 42,000 hits on this site since January (thank you everybody 🙂 ) I am starting to realise that I can do this stuff after all.

Honour your talents, gifts and values

I believe that when we chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo we give ourselves permission to honour our talents, gifts and values – sometimes for the first time ever, often for the first time in a long while. So, might it be time to lose or at least question the labels? The ones you apply to yourself? And to others? Try chanting (or if you are not a Buddhist, do affirmations…) with this liberating spirit in your heart:

I am not the role I have played to survive so far, I am not my psychometric profile, I am not the product of my childhood, I am a Buddha, I am who I choose to become. And everyone else is a Buddha too… 

Dx

17 thoughts on “Lose the labels that limit you

  1. Thank you for the reminder that we can raise the life state of humanity instead of go with the flow. Certainly we are not honoring our Buddha nature or that of others by labeling without intentional thought. Even though such labels as “leader” can be seen as positive, the person receiving the label may feel it does not fit them or that it places undo pressure on them to be something. Thank you again! NMRK

  2. I have a question David….
    Even if I personally don’t pin labels on others (what with being a practitioner), I just can’t wish them away. Labeling is rampant in our domestic life and carries all the way to our work life. Even in SGI, people get labelled as ‘leadership potential’, ‘infrequent/active member/practitioner’ etc. By your explanation, if somebody is labelled as a ‘leader’, is it indicative of his past potential? ‘Leader’ is a good label. That said, most labels are poisons that erode us slowly but steadily.

    Shouldn’t we be practicing ‘forward’looking labeling, given that labeling is unavoidable? If so, what does Nichiren Buddhism say about this?

    1. Hello,
      Interesting question and I think you answered it yourself in the end – ‘leader’ is indeed a good and empowering label whereas my post was about losing our LIMITING labels. In fact it’s really a post about not slandering ourselves and others, about having the heart of Boddhisattva Never Disparaging in an age where people are too quick to judge and limit others. Hope that helps?
      David

  3. Thank you David for this one. It came on a day that Susan and I were going to attend a meeting of Nonviolent Communication practitioners. The discussion topic was “enemy images” and this was very helpful for me in clarifying the issue.

    Past vs. potential really puts us in the NOW which is where we can take action.

    Thanks,
    Mel

  4. Great post………. “When we chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo we turn up the volume on the good stuff in our minds” loving this, just FAB. Going to read this post over and over again. Thank you :).

  5. I feel that such labels are better at describing our past than our potential.” so profound and true .Never thought this way. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    1. Thank you Valerie, it took me years of chanting to begin to understand this point, but when, as Nichiren teaches, “we cast off the transient and reveal the true” there is no limit to what we can become. Dx

  6. All of this is true. The question then becomes how can one live their highest life condition in spite of the labeling that exists and is used in society?

    1. Thank you Pat and yes, your question is very relevant. When we chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo we turn up the volume on the good stuff in our minds, we also give ourselves permission to honour our talents, gifts and values – sometimes for the first time ever, often for the first time in a long while. As more and more people do this, society and the language and labels it uses will naturally change. We ARE society, after all! This is what we call in SGI ‘raising the life state of all humanity.’

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