Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dangerous Labels

How's my mental health today?

I don't know yet. I'm actually writing this a few days ahead of time. When I know that I have several days of blog posts prepared my stress levels drop considerably.

When I worked in mental health I spent a lot of time and energy addressing the monster  known as "Stigma". People have so many biases, prejudices, and use discriminatory labels that are harmful to others, especially those that can't defend themselves.

Take this image for instance:

At first glance, the attempt at humour is obvious. But for people living and struggling with mental illness it's not so funny.  The text contained in the image takes a not very subtle shot at mentally imbalanced. It's a clear putdown - an insult! Jokes and jabs that denigrate someone, belittle them or mock and insult them are demeaning and destructive. They are evil thinly disguised as humour. It is NOT FUNNY!

In my work I frequently came across the saying, "When you label someone, you are giving yourself permission to treat them differently". (source: unknown)

This doesn't just occur in mental health; we see it, hear it, and read about it everyday!

As I continue reading the books mentioned in my recent (prior to last weekend) blog posts I can't help wondering how much of the labeling of others is a consequence of our focus on self? Do we intentionally attempt to boost our self-esteem by besmirching, maligning, and vilifying those who threaten our self-image?

Several years ago, I frequently found myself the target of sharp criticism. Much of the criticism resulted from the absence of a clearly defined line of accountability in my job, and some of the most vocal critics wanted the program funding and my job for themselves. The most frequent accusation was that I was only concerned with promoting myself, rather than working and providing opportunities for the members of the community I was hired to serve. (There's a lot more to the story, but there's no need to get into it here).

That was a difficult charge to respond to - it was a lose/lose situation for me. There was no way for me to defend myself. I was offended, hurt, disappointed, and felt the personal risks I was taking to speak up for the vulnerable were unappreciated. But I had to ask myself how much truth, if any existed in these arrows fired at me. To this day I wrestle with the question of "Is this about me?" Is it wrong to be ambitious? Am I motivated by praise? Reputation? Being in the spotlight? Does the label of glory-seeking and narcissism apply to me?

Is it possible to be an activist, an 'agent of change' and stay completely in the background? I find myself very reluctant to be anywhere but behind the scenes, quiet, unnoticed, undisturbed. Deep down I desire to be as safe and unassailable as possible.

That is so very contrary to who I am and who God created me to be. That doesn't fit with blogging. Or with writing for publication. How do I resolve this tug-of-war? Am I too worried - too focused on myself?

Can I boldly step beyond the fears of criticism and self doubt to follow what I believe is my calling and purpose? Do I want to?

“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm 
but because of those who look at it without doing anything” 
~ Albert Einstein

No comments:

Post a Comment