Recently I was having breakfast with some family members. And we started talking about my grandmother, who is showing signs of dementia. I asked family to look at this so we could plan for it together. One person said, “Why do you have to label it? Maybe she’s just getting old.”
I’ve noticed this, when people don’t want to look at something, they say, “Why do you have to label it?”
This exact phrase also happened when my parents came to see me, and I told them my brother has autism. I asked them to start looking at this so he could have a life that was more fulfilling.
They said, “Why do you have to label it?” And then proceeded to blow up at me.
Harry Potter & The Methods of Rationality
Back to my grandmother. I wanted to scream! But I said, “If you think she’s fine, then you won’t object to having her take a cognitive test.”
Instead of trying to beat my head against the wall, I decided to use the methods of rationality. I learned this from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality .
In one scene, Harry and Draco are trying to determine if magic is fading out of the world. This concept scares them very much, and they want to test if it is true. So they use the Litany of Tarski.
“It changes every time you use it. On this occasion it runs like so: If magic is fading out of the world, I want to believe that magic is fading out of the world. If magic is not fading out of the world, I want not to believe that magic is fading out of the world. Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.”
Remember the Litany of Gendlin: “What’s true is already so, owning up to it doesn’t make it worse. People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it.”
This is why I created the Name It podcast in 2019. And why I have the Asking for More podcast now. Because when we NAME something, we can start to understand it, and then we can start to deal with the world as it is.
Think about it. If you had a gangerenous leg, and someone came along and pointed it out, what would you do? Wouldn’t you want to work to fix it, instead of just letting your whole body rot from the inside?
That leg is supposed to be holding you up, and instead it’s dragging you down.
Some people don’t want to look at the gangrene. It’s easier not to.
Keep Calm and Problems are Fake
When someone says not to label something, in my head I hear, “Keep Calm and Problems Are Fake”. Like, I don’t see the problem, so therefore the problem doesn’t exist!
In my conferences (Party at the End of the Patriarchy, and this November, A Path to Action) we work to name oppression. We name things that people find it easier to overlook, such as; Trauma-bonding to our jobs, late stage Capitalism, low paying nonprofit jobs, etc. I love listening to other people name it as well, and getting my mind blown over and over again. If you like that too, you might like these:
Some of my favorite interviews include:
- – Racial Trauma and the Stages of Racial Awareness, an interview with Dr. Debra Jenkins
- – Critical Consciousness & Ethical Nonprofit Storytelling with Jarell Skinner-Roy
- – How White Supremacy Manifests inside Our Organizations with Desiree Adaway
- – What is Hegemonic Masculinity and why should you care? with Aaron Levine
- – Racism & The Nonprofit Sector with Kishshana Palmer
I’ve also been interviewed on podcasts to talk about the misogyny and racism inherent in the sector
- – Why the Nonprofit Sector has a Bias Against Women With Holly Rustick
- – Active Allyship, a response to Collecting Courage with the Small Nonprofits podcast
- – Equity in the Nonprofit Workplace With Veritus Group
And I’m not the only one doing this! We’ve had organizations like CharitySoWhite spring up, and now there’s also #CharitySoStraight and #CharitySoAbleist on Twitter. We’re even starting to name class issues with #Nongradswelcome. Not to mention the excellent Collecting Courage book about how the nonprofit sector treats Black people, which now has a workbook to help you take action.
What are they REALLY asking you to do, when they say “Why do you have to label it?”
So they’re saying, no labeling please! What is that really about? They might be really asking you to “stop making waves” or “stop making problems when I don’t see the problem”.
If they say, “Stop complaining” what they are really saying is “Your needs are inconvenient to me.” or “I don’t want to deal with this.”
When people say “Why do you have to label it?” they don’t want to look at something. That might be racism, sexism, classism, ableism, or whiteness. Then they might follow up with:
- -“Snowflakes!” or
- – “Why do you have to be so dramatic?” or
- -“Young people today are TOO SENSITIVE or TOO ENTITLED!” or
- -“This sector is going TOO FAR in the name of being inclusive!”
What are their consequences of naming oppression?
OH NO! What would happen if the sector got TOO INCLUSIVE!?! What TERRIBLE THINGS WOULD BEFALL US?
And you kind of already know the answer to this one.
It means that there is a finite amount of pie in their minds. If they named it, they would have to give up part of their slice. And they would LOSE POWER.
What they don’t realize is that their pie is actually poisoned!
There’s infinite pie somewhere else, that we can make together, if we rest enough to expand our radical imaginations.
The consequences for accepting the truth are, Now We Have to Deal with This Problem. And sometimes people don’t have the emotional courage to face the truth.
And that’s really what people who tell you not to label it are trying to avoid.
Perhaps, as Raemon says, we should amend the Litany of Gendlin. Maybe we should say, “Lying to yourself will eventually screw you up worse than getting hurt by a truth.”
This is why we have to talk about power.
Who has power in your organization?
Who has decisionmaking power but no consequences? (The Board) Who has consequences but no power? (The Staff). This is what I talked about with Sarah Oliveri on my podcast. If you’d like to re-organize your board in a more equitable way, definitely check out that interview.
Who has the power to say how much you make? What your benefits are? How late you work? What the structure is for you to rise in your organization? Our organizations are set up like feudalism, with nonprofit leader lords and serfs toiling in the fields.
What if we could have a more democratic workplace structure? What if we could have a union? Check out my panel with Shevanthi Daniel, Daniel Perez, and Sean Goode to hear how that works.
“You can’t fight power if you don’t understand it. And you can’t understand it if you don’t experience it and then dissect it.”Mumia Abu-Jamal
I want to ask you to join us at A Path to Action Conference November 18-19, 2022.
We’ll be talking about how to take action about issues of power at your organization NOW.
You’ll walk away with concrete tools, community, and a better understanding of how you can name it!
Jone van Rees
Great article and insight, that you link people’s aversion of addressing to issues to speaking truth to power. Thank you!
thank you Jone!