October 15, 2010 § 2 Comments
It’s pretty early in the morning and I’ve only got about 10 minutes to bang this out. Let’s see how well I do with my thoughts on 1/2 a cup of coffe! LOL.
One of my friends posted this article in her FaceBook about the issue of Labeling — as in the Buddhist definition of Labeling. The article, written by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche published in an online article for the Huffington Post, I felt really did a great job of spelling out the problems of Labeling as seen from the Buddhist perspective.
As an educator seeing all these recent stories about teens taking their lives for the various forms of bullying they are going through, this issue really speaks to me at this time. As a parent with two young children who have just entered the public school system, I also look at this issue quite closely — more closely now that I’ve gained a greater understanding of Labeling from the Buddhist standpoint.
Looking out at my classroom, every day, I have to admit that I see the labels that we traditionally place on students (and that we ourselves as students placed on ourselves as teenagers): The Jocks, the Popular Girls, the Troublemakers, the Loners, the Angstful ones, the Nerd, and the Kid Everyone Thinks Is Gay. As a teacher, I’ve always done my best to take each student on his or her own worth, and have always understood the importance of doing so in terms of education. As a beginning buddhist practitioner, this importance has taken on a more far-reaching meaning. In the article, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche states:
“Because of this labeling mind, we have friends and enemies, black and white, gay and straight, good and bad. In society, people put more weight on this label or that one, and so we experience segregation and discrimination. In Buddhism, we call this duality — our mind’s tendency to divide up the world into pairs of opposites. This is the root of so much of our suffering.”
As rational thinking people, we always know this to be true. I think we realize that opposites are somewhat fabricated — think of the “opposite” that we create between “cats” and “dogs.” Why are they opposites? They’re not even the same species. We’ve made them opposites because we’ve fabricated this cultural idea of cats and dogs fighting all the time. If you place a cat and a dog in a room, however, in my own experience, you’ll have a cat who couldn’t care less, or you’ll have the cat who will corner the dog. It’s not the case that the species are opposites, it’s more likely that the nature of one individual cat that influences it’s decision to ignore or chase that dog (I’m thinking of one particular, petite cat we owned who cornered a Boston Terrier three times her size, and a fat fluffy orange male cat who slept through the whole ordeal). The idea that dogs and cats are opposites make no more sense, really, than the idea that bird and fish are opposites. How do we know? Try explaining the idea of cats and dogs being opposite to a school-age child who is learning “opposites” in school (ugh). You’ll see how difficult it is to explain — and how ridiculous it all sounds once you start trying to put it into words.
This idea of having Labeling being an issue spelled out for us in Buddhist thinking, though, is important. We know it’s pretty well irrational, makes no real sense, and pits two camps against each other. As western thinkers, however, we are not usually led to the conclusion that it is one of the things that we do as a culture that leads to actual suffering. I mean, how could something we are taught by our pre-K teachers lead to SUFFERING? But it does.
I’m thankful for my friend who posted this article — it reminded me of the sea of faces I see every day, and the labels that our students are burdened with, that they carry around all day long. I hope I can do a decent job today of taking those labels off in my own mind. Maybe it’ll make some kind of difference? We’ll see.