March 28, 2017

Open Forum – When will we stop giving people labels and start using their names?

Open Forum – When will we stop giving people labels and start using their names?

Written by: Sue Ellson
Title: When will we stop giving people labels and start using their names?
Date: 21 March 2017
Format: Blog Article
Editor: Svetlana Stankovic
Online at:
Words: 943
Published text: See transcript below
Copy of article as it appeared online: 

Open Forum - When will we stop giving people labels and start using their names?


Today is Harmony Day, where we celebrate our cultural diversity. Sue Ellson asks you to think of all of the labels you have used over your lifetime and then make a conscious decision to stop using them.

When will we stop giving people labels and start using their names?

Paul Jarvis says that “Labels are for jars, not people.”

Since setting up Newcomers Network in 2001, I have seen a tidal wave of change in relation to Australia’s policy and performance in relation to migrants, expatriates, repatriates, faith, understanding, diversity, access and equity but I am at a loss to explain the number of labels we still give people on a daily basis.

We live in a world that seems to classify us into groups. In the past, this was largely demographic or socio-economic as we only had generic data collected from basic records.

Thanks to technology, we can now put everyone into a group of one – and in most cases, there seems to be some sort of label attached to that identity.

The worst part is, it is not usually the person’s name, it is usually something that has a derogatory connotation – their ethnic origin, faith, gender, ability etc. Worse still, there is usually a stereotype attached to that label.

George Clooney famously states in the movie ‘Up in the Air,’ “I’m like my mother, I stereotype. It’s faster.” I laughed, because I know that I am guilty of stereotyping too. That said, I try and overcome it as I am aware that I do it.

In a generic sense, perhaps we find it easier to stereotype rather than really look at each person in their own right. To uphold each person as Carl Rogers would suggest, in ‘unconditional positive regard.’

In a rapidly changing world where nothing stays the same, I presume that stereotypes can provide some level of comfort and convenience for our confused minds.

But that denies the efforts that so many people have pursued to establish equity in our society – where everyone is given an equal chance to succeed, regardless of their personal context.

I don’t want everyone to be treated the same in an equality sense. I want everyone to have access to opportunity. I want people to stop giving people labels and start using their name.

Our data driven world is no doubt creating a very interesting digital version of each of us. Our online behaviour and electronic devices are providing signals to all sorts of people about who we are as individuals and our personal preferences and this has many of its own implications.

However, I would like to think that as humans, at least for the short term, we can be one level above machine learning and artificial intelligence and be empathetic intellectuals who understand that at the heart of every person is a real person – an individual with a name – and that is the ONLY label we should give them when we are spending time with that person at work, socially or as part of a relationship.

People with a louder voice (either online or in person), have a responsibility to set an example with the language they use. I am not suggesting political correctness. I am suggesting authenticity.

For example, please do not attempt to call me a well educated Australian heterosexual divorced single parent consultant trainer and author (or any one of those individual labels), simply call me Sue. If you don’t want to identify me in your conversation or writing, say a person. That way I am not a label, I am still real, without a stereotype attached.

On Harmony Day, 21 March 2017, I would like to ask you to take a moment to reflect on how many labels you have collected for people over your lifetime – either consciously or unconsciously.

Think of all of the labels you have used at school, work and at home. Write them down if you will and then make a conscious decision to stop using them and look at every individual as a real person.

Every person has a story – and there is so much that you will never know. I understand that some of the things they do or say could be triggering a response in you that is negative, but you need to realise that you can overcome this attitude and your response.

If you could think about them again just as a person, without a label or a stereotype, would you listen more? Would you be willing to ask why they do or say something so you can understand why (even if you have known them for a long time)? Are you willing to have your view of the ‘other’ person changed by a meaningful dialogue? Could you be a better person when responding to them?

Interestingly, one of the most popular articles on the Newcomers Network website is ‘Finding Friends in Australia.’ The social isolation and loneliness suffered by so many people, in my view, is a direct result of the labels, judgements and stereotypes that frame our perception of the people we meet or see.

Finally, I want to encourage you to be willing to be open and authentic with everyone you meet. If a topic comes up that is difficult, stay there, let the person talk and really listen. Don’t pass judgement, criticism or even give advice. Don’t change the subject. Simply listen. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. In most situations, the most helpful thing you can do is just listen and say ‘I understand’ (if you do) or ‘I hear you’ (if you don’t understand).

You cannot know what it is like to be in another person’s shoes, but our growth as a species relies on us becoming more human, not less human in the future. To give up labels and use names. Which path will you choose?

Sue Ellson BBus AIMM MAHRI CDAA (Assoc) ASA MPC is the Founder and Director of Newcomers Network, a socially responsible enterprise providing information, events and advocacy for newcomers and networkers and Camberwell Network for people who live, work and network in Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria. Sue is a regular feature writer for various publications and an Independent LinkedIn Specialist who has published three books ‘120 Ways To Achieve Your Purpose With LinkedIn’ and ‘120 Ways To Attract The Right Career Or Business’ and ‘120 Ways To Market Your Business Hyper Locally.’ Connect directly to Sue via LinkedIn or visit for more information.