You are first a Human Being – No Labels Please

Life and Death – The Beginning and the End

It was during a class in school that I came to know how a human comes to life. Some would grin and smile, whilst others were surprised. All humans are born the same way, we are sent through this world taking birth from our mother. It feels as if mothers have this special gift (not taking away the pain they must bear through), and while many go into different professions and areas of interest, that process is similar for everyone.

I remember sitting at a lunch table in GE, and one of my close friends Abhishek was sitting with me, and we were talking about some soldiers getting killed and how a country was so radical. He said these words, “Where there is a nation, there is no peace”. Those words really stuck with me on the deepest level. We were born in the same way, but we drew those lines, we marked the boundaries, and we now fight wars to protect them. At the border, a person can die anytime not knowing a sniper might be taking her/him out. I have huge respect for soldiers and the way they dedicate their lives to the country. Huge respect. But it all comes down to building a nation and how we protect those boundaries. I’m not going good or bad with this, it is what it is.

Years later I saw the first death in my family, and I asked my father how they knew that uncle had died, and he tried to explain it to me in some words, but mostly said that the person stops breathing. It could be due to many reasons, such as disease, but life form comes to an end when a person doesn’t breathe anymore and the way that happens could be unique. Again, something which makes us so common as human beings.

Labels – How we give them and how they build us

Coming back to the first part, when we are born, we start giving labels of caste/religion/race/color – trust me there might be 100’s of things. It could be your state/country, the way you dress, or your sexual preference – we just keep labeling humans. These labels then form emotions of love/hate/afraid/anxiety, and we form biases. God is smiling from above because we all were born the same way.

I remember the first time I was introduced to the word “Gay” – I was told that it’s something a person chooses to be and gets converted to it. Yes, I know it’s surprising, but a few friends explained it to me in that way. And I feel they believed in it. Every Label we make is based on a bias, it could be a social bias, logical, or otherwise. But there is a bias. Years after, I came to know that it’s from birth and not a choice, and it was sad to see how people abuse others based on this.

Labels are the opposite of understanding. This is a line I heard recently in the sense8 Netflix series, and it sounds so true. When you label someone, you set your mind to a checkpoint, one which you already have a judgement about, something which you’ve already concluded on, and your actions/reactions are based on those. You don’t think, you just behave accordingly.

Sometimes labels might unite us, like a common religion – people sitting in a temple praying together and finding that common ground. That makes them happy, feel safe, and protected, I can relate this to the certification/leadership knowledge of how people with the same vision feel satisfied.

Sometimes labels might set us apart, I remember walking in a city market in a foreign country, it was a busy Saturday afternoon, with a lot of people around and they were walking/laughing. 5 guys came and poured 2 bottles of 2-litre coca cola inside my t-shirt, calling me by my country label and laughed at me. I stood still not realizing how I should react to 5 young men and if any fighting would help. They left within 10 mins, and I stood there for another 10, and then came back home and cleaned myself. After the event, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, I wasn’t happy that no one around helped, on the other hand, I was thinking if my label justified them doing this. I also thought they must be bad people. But overall, I was upset, angry, embarrassed, and sad.

Your personal biases are often made up by your experiences in life and when, for example, a company defines it as a rule, it doesn’t help. We need to ensure people understand this. I am a manager, and some time ago a female employee was going on maternity leave, she set a meeting with me and in a scared voice, she asked me if she would get promoted (she had her promotion due in 3 months). I did promise that she would eventually be promoted, but her asking me this made me think that the social bias is that females going on maternity leave will not receive a promotion. I hate the fact that someone might think that I did something good/great by promoting her when her work speaks for itself, and she deserves it.

I was in a management position in another company and witnessed another manager withhold a promotion because he was not confident if the person would come back after maternity leave.

Every company has sexual harassment training, to prevent discriminating against people based on their gender, but I feel that reality may be far away. Some companies do it for compliance, some do it as a checkmark.

Even after writing all of this, I am not exempt from placing labels on others – I’m not a saint. Occasionally, I do assume things based on labels and it’s not something I’m proud of. When you do this for a long time, it gets in your unconscious bias, and then you need to work on it to improve. Again – labels are the exact opposite of understanding. When a label comes to your mind next time, try moving away from it and to understand more than the label. For many people in our society that should be the way forward. At the end of the day, if this world only remembers us as human beings, you’ll have millions of people to connect to, all of us want to talk, we all have ears, a nose, and many things in common.