Academic journal article et Cetera

The Labeling Process and Other Interdisciplinary Similarities between Buddhism and General Semantics

Academic journal article et Cetera

The Labeling Process and Other Interdisciplinary Similarities between Buddhism and General Semantics

Article excerpt

I remember taking a communication course during my early undergrad years. The course title was Interpersonal Communication and was taught by one of the professors from the Speech Communication Department.

One of the basic aspects taught in the course was the concept of labeling. We are probably well aware of how humans assign labels to aggregate groups; humans have the attribute of using our intelligence to quickly size up a situation, and put our perceptions into some category, in order to respond to the need of the moment. This may be a healthy or unhealthy response to the context of how labeling is used. We are also symbol-making beings; it's very nice to be able to think quickly and place a person, group, object, or place into a neat little bundle with a comfortable spot in a box with a label on it.

We humans don't do well with a lot of uncertainty in our lives or in the "world out there." The capacity of acting quickly in a threatening situation is an inherent survival skill. Each of us has acquired specific survival patterns that eventually motivate themselves into a kind of "reactive repertoire."

"The awkwardness and paranoia that ensues from the uninvestigated assumptions that we associate with particular labels, is, in itself a major cause of breakdown in communication and a source of destructive responses to conflict."1

I remember once seeing an animated video that graphically depicted how we humans box ourselves in by the labels we put on ourselves and others. The star of this video was a strange-looking little creature (I'm not quite sure whether he should get the label of human or not), inside a generic, cardboard box, and he was frantically attempting to find a way out. He would put his feet on one side and push until he was red in the face, and 1 had some concerns that he might be prone to a heart attack while in the confines of his small home, a little box. He tried everything of which he could think as a way to solve his problem: using feet, hands, arms, and even trying to break out through the seams. He was doing so much work in there that the walls of the box were breathing in and out like a mini hurricane.

Eventually he found a space, but he had to flatten himself, the best he could, to squeeze himself out; he got a foot and an arm out, but the other side couldn't find the moxie to follow the leader-the rest of his body! At long last with excruciating alacrity and grit, he popped out.

The ironic end of this cartoon tale was that after he finally got out, he began to feel sad that he was no longer in the box. He'd grown accustomed to it, and missed the inside, because it had morphed into his real home. He was grieving the loss of his former home. After crying for a while, and feeling sorry for himself, he decided he would go back inside-going back was just as hard as getting out, but ultimately he reached his goal. He sat in the box and smiled to himself-like the cat that ate the canary-he felt so satisfied to be in familiar environs. He was at last home.

It's my opinion that this little cautionary tale reflects both the views of Buddhism and general semantics and one example, the Buddhist teaching of the principle of inaction: this doesn't mean that no one ever does anything and simply sits down all our day on the meditation cushion. Rather, it means that we work at detaching from our own ego that wishes to take action all the time, gets the big head over his or her action, and strives to get whatever she/he needs to meet the ego's desires, cravings, addictions, obsessions with materialistic objects, and conditioned attachments. Most of us are very attached to fixing some problem or controlling some situation. Inaction is the antidote for this. Albeit it's not action or inaction that ought to concern us, but it's our attachment to ourselves {our ego} which emerges as an obstacle.

The box metaphor is a good one to describe the evaluative process. A very common colloquialism today is "think outside the box. …

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