Guest Author - Sascha Norris
Whether we realize it or not, how we define ourselves determines how we live our lives. Similarly, how we define others determines how we interact with them as well as the role they play in our lives.
We speak disparagingly of labels, not realizing how we are to use them ourselves. For definitions become labels. And the process of defining becomes a process of building a bridge of prejudices, limitations, and stereotypes.
Once we define a person in our minds based on our perception of his or her behavior, he or she becomes stereotyped in our minds. This is how we determine what we think the intentions are behind someone else's actions and how we come to assume that what we know what another person is feeling or thinking.
Perhaps we imagine that to presuppose another person's behavior or to "read between the lines" as some say makes us intuitive or perceptive. But is our intuition objective or subjective? Do we observe what is actually there or merely what we want to see?
Most of us say we abhor intolerance in others, yet we do not see that intolerance begins with the process of defining. The labels we attach to people and things determine what we tolerate -- and what we don't.
And this same process of defining, applied to ourselves, determines how we engage in day-to-day life. The labels we both consciously and unconsciously attach to ourselves guide our thoughts, our actions, and our key choices.
If we have labelled ourselves as being a certain way - for instance as being "stupid" or being "lazy" - our behavior will oftentimes back up our self-prejudices and reinforce how we have come to define ourselves. For we cannot define ourselves in a certain way without influencing our behavior.
To demonstrate the validity of my conjecture, let me give an example. Let's say that you have a habit of spending more money than you earn and that because of this, you and others now define you as a "spendthrift".
Well, with this label attached to yourself, imagine coming into a sudden fortune of $100,000. Do you think considering the fact that you and others define you as a "spendthrift" that you would be more likely to spend all of the $100,000 swiftly or to hold on to half of it for the future when you might need it more?
I think you and I both know what the most logical answer is. And it is in applying logical principles in such a practical and useful way that we come to see what a wonderful resource the core concepts of philosophy are when it comes to guiding and improving our lives.
As for definitions, often they can be a very positive and essential tool. Imagine what our lives would be like if no one had ever defined anything! We would all be using words that had no definite meaning attached to them and using objects that each of us had different names for. Thus, we can see how important definitions can be.
Yet, people are different than words and objects. We may be able to use a dictionary to look up words and meanings, but when it comes to ourselves and others, what we need is a mind that is free and a heart that is open.