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Do Labels Stop You From Taking Action?

August 23, 2011

Usually, the purpose of napkins is for wiping your hands and mouth, for holding food or catching beverage drips.  Whether the napkin is made of paper or cloth doesn’t matter.  Nor does the color or artwork, or lack thereof.  Right?

Recently, I hosted a very casual gathering.  All the regulars showed up.  It was a blast!   Good food, great conversation and lots of laughter.

Preparing for the event, I planned the menu and surveyed my inventory of support materials – paper plates, plastic utensils, cups and napkins.  I discovered a shortage of my everyday white paper napkins.   But, I had several partially used packages of napkins; you know, 10 in one, 8 in another…all occasion neutral…for the most part.

In the past I would have run out to purchase more napkins – all the same color and design – to insure a supply more than sufficient for the gathering.   After all, that’s how I ended up with so many 10s and 8s and 4s leftover.   But, a couple of months ago I promised myself to use what I have before I buy more.   This seemed like a good opportunity to follow through on my promise.   So, I took out the partial packages and placed their contents into napkin holders positioned near the food and beverage stations.

Cheerfully, the group gathered.   Everyone was having a great time.   Everything was going really well.   Then, as I walked by two guests, I heard one saying to another, “Yes, but I don’t know if we should use these.  They’re birthday napkins!”

I had trouble believing what I was hearing.   “Birthday napkins?”   I mean, a napkin is a napkin – just something you wipe your hands and mouth on, put under your beverage glass, place a piece of cheese on, then toss or wash.   All it needs to be is clean enough, soft enough, strong enough.

I thought, “The label on it is of no real consequence.”  Then it hit me: as simple an examples as it was, this was a great demonstration of how labels limit.

Through labels we give things meaning, meaning that often determines how we see, use and interact with those things.   To at least one of those two people at the party, the napkin was not simply a napkin.   The sign on it said, “Happy Birthday,” making it a special napkin, appropriate to and useable only on such occasions.

I said nothing to them, just smiled to myself and thought, “The stuff of everyday life offers such good examples of the power of limiting LIES.”   This time the example was a label, “Happy Birthday,” printed on a napkin.   The presence of the label caused a smart, successful person to pause and second-guess her intended action. How often do you allow labels – good – bad; right –-wrong; man – woman; young – old; rich – poor, smart – dumb, republican – democrat, you name it – stop you from taking action and following through on your good intentions?

School is where many of the LIES that we carry with us through life originate.  Get your back-to-school copy of “LIES That Limit” and learn how to recognize those critical pivot points that can make or break your child.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 23, 2011 10:03 am

    Loved your blog post today. It’s a perfect example of how people do limit themselves in their lives. I realized myself this weekend how I have been limiting myself for too long. I spent the weekend with my son in Troy, NY for his birthday. We did things that he has been wanting to do but had no one to do it with…having ice cream at the #1 ice cream stand in the world, eating lunch at a restaurant he’s been wanting to visit, and playing bowling on his new WII. Nothing fancy, but the most wonderful one-on-one time ever. It woke me up to the fact that I have been spending so much time worrying over the things I have to and should do, rather than enjoying the good graces that God has given me each day. My days are not only more enjoyable but so much more productive because I finally got out of my own way.

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