A Label by any Name is Still Just a Label
Recently I started to read an article about technology and what generations thought about other generations using technology. I was expecting tongue in cheek humor and something enduring like the current Progressive Insurance ad campaign “Progressive can't save you from becoming your parents, but we ... “. Instead, it was a post full of blame, disdain of people who were not in the author’s generation and a tremendous amount of anger. It made me consider just how dangerous grouping people together and placing labels on them - for any reason - can be.
While generations have grown up using technology, it does not mean that other generations do not know, understand, and have proficiency with technology. Just by being in an age group does not equal technological ability, prowess, or skills. The biggest users of social media are ages 24-34. However, that does not address what other groups are fluent in social media. Nor does that mean that social media will continue as the technological platform of choice in five or ten years. Cartoons depicting older people as tech neophytes are just as label reinforcing as those of millennials tripping and falling because they don’t look up from their smart phones when walking. Both are demeaning to both groups.
How many times have you heard or read that millennials are unmotivated, expecting participation awards, don’t want to work hard or just fill in the blank? Or the offsetting conversation that boomers have taken all of the riches, expect others to support them, are greedy or just fill in the blank? The labels applied to the people who comprise these two generations are hurtful, harmful and untruthful. While there are people who don’t want to work hard in all generations, there are more people who do want to work hard in all generations. The negative labeling of being a boomer or a millennial, without consideration of the individual, is particularly harmful. Ageism, particularly for women, is rampant. If we are fortunate, we will all become old. It is a simple fact. However, in the US, we are youth obsessed. Media messages, advertising, even the people who read the “news” are focused on youth. The message, which is heard so frequently it becomes internalized, is young is good and old is bad. Again, reinforcing labels.
Labels are limiting. They reduce the opportunity for learning. Many recent articles about successful mentoring discuss the shift from traditional mentor model to a new model. Gone is the model of a senior person sharing knowledge with a younger person which was an exclusively top down model.Instead, the current mentoring model is both top down and bottom up. There is a sharing of knowledge from both parties and both parties gain knowledge from the relationship. It is more inclusive, removes labels and adds value.
Missed opportunities are the biggest negative of labeling. All of the missed opportunities to learn, build a relationship, see things from a different perspective or to broaden thinking are lost.A missed opportunity cannot be recovered at another time. It is simply missed. Conversely, it is replaced with impatience, lack of understanding and reinforcement of the stereotype.
We can shift the labeling as we all have the power to not simply accept and reinforce any stereotype. There are enough walls in the United States that we do not need to create more. We can fight labels, ageism, and stereotypes by investing in learning, expanding our horizons, and in relationships. When we only view the label – not the person - we rob ourselves of an opportunity and deprive someone else of what makes them human. Big change can start in small ways.
About the Author: Brenda Edwards is the Executive Director of the Phoenix law firm of Jaburg Wilk. She frequently writes on law firm management topics.