In 2020, with Covid-19 being the health threat and economic threat it is, with racial and societal unrest, it is no shock that our mental health seems under fire. Anxiety and depression are on the rise. It seems as if we are asked to pick sides or label ourselves with regards to every issue. This can leave all of us feeling disconnected and divided. As humans, we need connection with other humans. This need is so strong within us that only the need for food, water and shelter come above it.
But how can we strengthen our connectedness to others during a pandemic, and such societal divisiveness?
One way to be more connected and less divided is to hold our labels more loosely.
As humans we create labels. We need to label something to define it and understand in relation to what we already know- to put something in context.
Picture a file on the desktop of your computer. You might have a folder labeled house, car, work, school, medical….and many other labeled folders. The reason you labeled the folders is so you know exactly where to place new documents, where they belong. If you just had several folders with no labels, you would not know where yo to put in formation, and you would know where to find the information when you need it.
This is how our brain works. When our brain receives new information, it does one of two things- puts information in an existing folder or cremates a new folder for the information- our brain either assimilates or accommodates.
Assimilation occurs when we modify or change new information to fit into our schemas (what we already know). It keeps the new information or experience and adds to what already exists in our minds.
In other words if we have a file folder on a particular subject already in our brain, we may take similar information and modify it to fit in that folder. We might have a folder labeled car and when we receive a bill for car insurance it goes into the car folder instead of creating a folder just for car insurance.
Accommodation is when we restructure or modify what we already know so that new information can fit in better. This is when we create a new folder. If we do not have a current folder already labeled for this new information to fit with, we must create and label a new folder. So if you receive a bill for car insurance and you have no folder for car or insurance, you create a folder for this new subject matter.
So anything and everything we learn becomes a basis for understanding what we learn next- as sort of lens through which we see the world.
This explains why we all have biases- we look at the world based on our own experiences and the information we have already processed based on those experiences.
And this is why we like to label everything and share our labels. We stick bumper stickers on our car- democrat or republican, vegan or meat lover, dog or cat person.
Think about how your labels define you. Do they tell the whole story? If we hold too tightly to our own labels or how we label others, we don’t allow for growth or change.
For the top 5 ways Labels Limit us listen to the Imperfect Thriving Podcast Episode 36.
Besides holding our labels lightly, another thing we can do to find more connectedness and less division with others is to approach each other with respectful curiosity.
I recently had the honor of being interviewed on this topic by Thrive Global. Read the entire article here.
Empower counseling specializes in using Acceptance Commitment Therapy for anxiety therapy, counseling for depression, counseling for college students, and counseling for professionals.