Matt Knutson: Stop labeling others and be positive instead

Published 10:23 pm Thursday, September 21, 2017

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“She’s picking everything up off of the living room floor,” I told my wife as she wondered what our daughter was doing. It was a peculiar activity, but so are most things when you’re that little. There were grumbles and shouts with some unintelligible word being repeated, yet we had no clue what was going on. Finally, as the floor was cleared and our couch filled with toys, it clicked. Our daughter’s shouts of “cackoo” meant she wanted us to vacuum.

Before you jump to some conclusions about the state of our home, I want you to understand that we’re relatively clean people. This was not a one-and-a-half-year-old taking a stand against a pigpen of neglect. Rather, it was a little girl who much earlier that day discovered the puppy on the label of the vacuum and was determined to see it again. Her efforts were not in vain, as there was no way we could deny someone who put in so much work the opportunity to see the vacuum cleaner up close.

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Gracelyn’s past interactions with the vacuum have always been cautious. She’d often sit on the couch with me (surrounded by her toys) while my wife would clean around us. Our daughter would mix an occasional giggle with a fierce grip on my arm while the machine did its job, and we’d all celebrate when it was complete. Upon the realization of the puppy label however, all timidness was gone. I was amazed at my daughter’s somewhat maniacal laughter as Sera worked her way around the living room. Gracelyn would rush up to the cleaning device, play with the cord, and dash away as if playing tag with her friends from daycare (though she’s still much too young to even understand how tag works). Accompanying her laughter were repeated shouts of “Hi!” and vigorous hand waving. This was clearly the highlight of our daughter’s evening.

The glee that our “cackoo” provided was far more preferred when considering how other kids respond to the vacuum. There was no screaming, no running to hide, and no tears (a rarity these days). A puppy label, showcasing the device’s capability to pick up dog hair, had saved the day. I can’t help but wonder if we can replicate the effect on other items that Gracelyn finds scary. A golden retriever pup might look great on the side of the blender. Only time will tell just how powerful the puppy label can be.

It did dawn on me that perhaps the label effect could be shaping our own lives as well. We didn’t buy that particular vacuum solely because of the label alluding to its ability to pick up pet hair, but it did remind us that we needed a vacuum strong enough to handle Beesly’s fur. Sometimes it’s good to take time and ponder how the labels you encounter every day are influencing you. Perhaps even more important — how might the labels you put on others be determining how you interact with them. Maybe there are a few people in your life, or even a casual passersby on the street, that could do with a label change. We’re not as good at judging people as we think we are, and those judgments can have long-lasting impacts on other people’s success and own perceptions of the world.

Maybe we all need to pull out Gracelyn’s favorite puppy label and put it on some of our least-favorite people. It may not be easy, but if we can get that label to stick, our whole community might be a more positive place. We’ll never be a society that doesn’t label or categorize groups of people, but individually, we can find joy in just about everyone if you look for it.

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.