Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Danger and Advantage of Labels

We all know the danger of labeling people.

The complainer whose last four complaints had no merit may have just surfaced a worthy grievance so we must grit our teeth and be open to the evidence.

At the same time, common sense dictates that we shouldn't be oblivious to someone's record. The person who has been deceptive in the past is not worthy of the same unquestioning trust that we give to those with unblemished behavior.

Still, there is an appealing aspect to the hope that this time, things will be different. Perhaps the person has turned around. Perhaps we can find common ground. Such wishful thinking is entirely understandable. Many, if not most, of us believe in redemption.

What is truly dangerous is when we blindly embrace the fairy tale and ignore the warning signs. It is hard to conceive of how, in the Thirties, seasoned and well-educated diplomats could spend more than five minutes looking at the madhouse that made up the top leadership of Nazi Germany and think that those people had the same aspirations for peace.

Such blindness reveals the mindset of someone who would point at a lion and seriously declare, "That is not a lion." Before abandoning the obvious label, we should require far more compelling evidence than the sum of our hopes.

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