Situations Can Be Challenging, Not People


Little boy crying while fingers are pointed at him

I was part of a conversation this week in which somebody was commenting on how people often say that someone else is “challenging” or “difficult”, but people aren’t any of those things.

Their actions may be challenging. Their situation may be difficult. The person, however, isn’t either of these things.

Brené Brown has written about the dangers of putting such labels on people. Calling a woman a bitch or an immigrant a cockroach dehumanizes them, making it easier to treat them less humanely.

A child is labeled as “difficult” can end up with that label, based on someone’s view of their actions at one point, and that label can prove harmful in the long run. Labels like that can follow them through school, with teachers passing the label on to other teachers or administrators in a school. This can lead to not only a bias toward the student, but also the student coming to believe the label that’s been put on them.

This has been done to children because of race or religion for generations. Indigenous children were taught that they were savages. Black children that they weren’t as smart as white children. Jewish children living in Europe under the Nazis were called rodents and insects (along with their parents).

I had a friend many years ago who I knew was a good guy (we met in grade 5). He was Hispanic, but adopted by a white family. Most of the time that we were in school he didn’t seem to care about fitting in with other kids (wearing “the right” clothes, cutting his hair a certain way). His parents seemed to think he was a bad kid, as did other parents, even though when they first gave him that label, he wasn’t. He eventually gave into the label he’d been given. He was already facing the penalty, why not live up to the label?

Think about this before you call someone a name, label someone in talking about them to others, or assume that the label someone else has given them must be who they are, not just something they may have done.

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