Special to Times of Oman
In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined. Those were the words of Tomas Szaszuote. When I first came upon this statement, it left me in silence.
My mind however became noisy. I pondered on the definitions people place upon each other. I had a flashback of breaking news headlines on how each media seeks to dominate with its own definition.
I visualised the world with arrows shooting in various directions around the globe, over, under, and within pushing to define before being defined; some having more power than others in their definitions.
To define is to put a label on something associating a certain identity to it. The clothes we wear have labels, either high-end fashion brands or little known brands that meet the purpose.
The foods we eat have labels, differentiating products from one another. We live in a world of labels. In the area of marketing, this type of labelling plays a role in its competitive advantage and market positioning to represent its brand.
All's well when it comes to the marketing department. It is when we take it to the humanity department, where humans stick labels on one another in a damaging way, that the words of Szascuote run deep. Two key elements emerge strongly reflecting on this. First: how we define ourselves. Second: how we define others. Let's start by the former.
Stereotypes are the greatest labelling tools towards each other. In a rhetoric of 'us' versus the 'others', certain characteristics of people or race get labelled in a particular way, impacting others to label it the same way. In certain definitions I may be under the 'us' category or in the 'others'.
Pre-defined judgments come in the way clouding the way we think of each other and consequently how we treat each other. It is this that makes room for racism and discrimination because of the labels that dominate and the inability to see each other as 'we'.
It may also be kept internally, showing superficial respect to one another but holding judgmental labels within that hinders us from strongly connecting.
Ironically there's also dangerous comfort in labelling and defining. It brings ease to categorise each other and make sense of the world, so that we are aware of where we fit in. We are able to determine how we interact with others based on the definitions that we have of them.
If we are to move away from these traps of discrimination and to see each other as humans rather than labels, then we need to catch ourselves the moment we form a negative judgment about another and question that judgment. When it comes to ourselves, we also use labels when we define who we are. It takes awareness and effort to push away labels we were made to believe about ourselves, depending on our ethnicity, beliefs or interests.
We step into a world that is ready to stick those labels on us and some do make their way into our mental perception as well as behaviour.
Some people may feel inferior as a result, lack of confidence, or threatened. If we are to go beyond the labels the world places on us, this is where we are to become aware of our inner thoughts about who we are and re-define and filter out any demeaning concepts.
Although Szascuote implies that those who define first overrule, much like the animal kingdom, yet despite what damaging perceptions were imposed, those who are keen to push that away can re-define and re-impose a more higher conscious approach.
Look at how you label others, how you label yourself, and check if that contributes or hinders to genuine respect, appreciation for one another, and understanding. The beauty in any of our differences is to connect in knowing one another and relate to our similarities as human beings. The human kingdom needs to unleash away from harmful labels and to have definitions that align us and bring us closer; enabling love, cooperation, harmony and understanding to dominate in the world.
The author is a senior executive at Knowledge Oman. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.
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