Posts Tagged ‘Labeling’

How to see people, not just our reactions to them

13 Sep

When we encounter someone, usually the mind automatically slots the person into a category: man, woman, your friend Tom, the kid next door, etc. Watch this happen in your own mind as you meet or talk with a co-worker, salesclerk, or family member.

In effect, the mind summarizes and simplifies tons of details into a single thing – a human thing to be sure, but one with an umbrella label that makes it easy to know how to act. For example: “Oh, that’s my boss (or mother-in-law, or boyfriend, or traffic cop, or waiter) . . . and now I know what to do. Good.”

This labeling process is fast, efficient, and gets to the essentials. As our ancestors evolved, rapid sorting of friend or foe was very useful. For example, if you’re a mouse, as soon as you smell something in the “cat” category, that’s all you need to know: freeze or run like crazy!

On the other hand, categorizing has lots of problems. It fixes attention on surface features of the person’s body, such as age, gender, attractiveness, or role. It leads to objectifying others (e.g., “pretty woman,” “authority figure”) rather than respecting their humanity. It tricks us into thinking that a person comprised of changing complexities is a static unified entity. It’s easier to feel threatened by someone you’ve labeled as this or that. And categorizing is the start of the slippery slope toward “us” and “them,” prejudice, and discrimination.

Flip it around, too: what’s it like for you when you can tell that another person has slotted you into some category? In effect, they’ve thingified you, turned you into a kind of “it” to be managed or used or dismissed, and lost sight of you as a “thou.” What’s this feel like? Personally, I don’t like it much. Of course, it’s a two-way street: if we don’t like it when it’s done to us, that’s a good reason not to do it to others.

The practice I’m about to describe can get abstract or intellectual, so try to bring it down to earth and close to your experience.

When you encounter or talk with someone, instead of reacting to what their body looks like or is doing or what category it falls into:

  • Be aware of the many things they are, such as: son, brother, father, uncle, schoolteacher, agnostic, retired, American, fisherman, politically conservative, cancer survivor, friendly, smart, donor to the YMCA, reader of detective novels, etc. etc.
  • Recognize some of the many thoughts, feelings, and reactions swirling around in the mind of the other person. Knowing the complexity of your own mind, try to imagine some of the many bubbling-up contents in their stream of consciousness.
  • Being aware of your own changes – alert one moment and sleepy another, nervous now and calm later – see changes happening in the other person.
  • Feeling how things land on you, tune into the sense of things landing on the other person. There is an experiencing of things over there – pleasure and pain, ease and stress, joy and sorrow – just like there is in you. This inherent subjectivity to experience, this quality of be-ing, underlies and transcends any particular attribute, identity, or role a person might have.
  • Knowing that there is more to you than any label could ever encompass, and that there is a mystery at the heart of you – perhaps a sacred one at that – offer the other person the gift of knowing this about them as well.

At first, try this practice with someone who is neutral to you, that you don’t know well, like another driver in traffic or a person in line with you at the deli. Then try it both with people who are close to you – such as a friend, family member, or mate – and with people who are challenging for you, such as a critical relative, intimidating boss, or rebellious teenager.

The more significant the relationship, the more it helps to see beings, not bodies.

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Big Pharma Goes Before Supreme Court To Get State Lawsuits Banned [Wyeth]

07 Oct

"Pre-emption" is a legal doctrine that says the federal government can claim all regulatory power over an area or subject, barring states from acting on their own. The drug maker Wyeth has brought a case before the Supreme Court arguing that a woman in Vermont, who lost her arm due to a drug complication that Wyeth knew about but did not publicize, cannot sue them in state court because of pre-emption. Wyeth says that only the FDA has the power to regulate it—and since the FDA approved Wyeth's drug label, it's the FDA's responsibility. We think Wyeth is pretending to care about federal-versus-state power in an attempt to weasel out of any responsibility.

We understand why Wyeth would pursue this line of reasoning—after all, if they win, then it will put an end to personal lawsuits against drug companies. But if Wyeth got its way, the result would require a huge expansion in the FDA's role in bringing drugs to market and monitoring them afterward, because the FDA would have to shoulder the burden of responsible drug testing and labeling. If the FDA took over this responsibility, it would have to balloon to an enormous and almost certainly unwieldy government agency, and it would likely slow down the time it takes to bring new drugs to market.

On the other hand, it's quite possible that the FDA would simply hobble along in an underfunded, understaffed state, paralyzed by bureaucratic jams and strangled by politicians and the lobbyists who feed them.

This is why we think Wyeth is being duplicitous, by arguing for one thing—greater federal regulation—while knowing that in reality, having only the FDA to answer to will mean less risk of being held responsible for mistakes, incomplete research, or inappropriate marketing.

We're sure Wyeth would love to have it both ways, with limited regulatory oversight combined with the protection of a federal agency that's largely toothless. We hope the Supreme Court tells Wyeth to pay the Vermont woman her $7 million—and to label its drugs more clearly if it wants to avoid such payouts in the future.

"Consumer Issues Top Supreme Court's Docket" [NPR]
"Plainfield Pianist's Case Could Affect Nation" [WCAX] (Thanks to Michael Belisle!)
(Photo: Getty)

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