As a verb, to muse is to consider something thoughtfully. As a noun, a muse is a person who is a source of artistic inspiration. What follows is a thoughtful consideration from an inspiring source.

The Muse

| September 9, 2016

Number 4

Read the Label…

What is in a name? A little over two years ago, I legally became a “husband”. Prior to that, for the vast majority of our nearly 27 years together, my other half and I used the term “partner” in describing our respective roles in the relationship. In several previous co-habitations during a couple of decades prior to that, the commonly accepted nomenclature for one’s significant other within the community was “lover,” a word that still has various levels of meaning (suggested or real) for just about everyone.

However, despite the step forward that the latest label for my same-sex spouse takes, I’m still having a small problem wrapping my arms around the title of “husband” – in reference to me or, perhaps even more so, to my husband. Call me old-fashioned, but it still sounds a bit weird to me as yet (although, rest assured, the right to be legally wed does not).

That’s the problem with labels. They can change. Their meaning(s) can change. Becoming more positive…or, often, more negative. Or more generally – or easily — applicable. And sometimes these new subtleties can take on — for better or for worse (no pun on the previous discussion intended!) – a life of their own. Take, for instance, a label that has become a national cause célèbre in the last several years. I’m referring to the term “bully.”

Certainly the outcry against bullying is long overdue and necessary. It seems that, with the unbridled growth of social media, the overgrown hulk who ruled the playground of the past is now lurking behind every Facebook comment or hidden within every tweet someone receives. The dangerous result has been documented–way too often already — in the suicides of so many young people who were unable to weather the pressure, humiliation and torture to which they were subjected. Bullying is now something far worse than having your milk money taken. Or something you’ll supposedly grow out of.

The use of the term bullying has easily been assimilated into the world of business today: Case in point is the sexual discrimination scandal that continues to reverberate within Fox News, despite the forced departure of Roger Ailes, its longtime former chief. What has continued to emerge is the story of a decades-long boys’ club atmosphere of innuendo, objectification and practices which targeted female newscasters and employees.

But with widespread awareness and use, there is also the risk that the word bully can be manipulated and abused to fit a manager’s or co-worker’s ulterior – or mean-spirited – motives stemming from jealousy, feeling threatened or wanting revenge. For example, a close friend recently lost their job. (I’ve used the generic pronoun to protect the innocent.) The manager labeled my friend a bully in the workplace. Not collaborative. Unfairly demanding. Undermining. Belittling.

No one who has ever encountered this person in a professional situation — or otherwise – would ever combine these kinds of accusations with my friend’s name within the same sentence. This is a person for whom the glass is always half full, never half empty (that’s my department…). A person who was born already wearing the rose-colored glasses. Funny, smart, creative. No artifice. Always helpful and supportive. A person who was born to mentor, to lead and guide — and did so – as a friend, a teacher, a co-worker, an employee or boss and/or employer, a supplier, a sibling, a partner.

And over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to bear witness to untold phone calls, e-mails, messages via social media and out-of-the-blue face-to-face incidents in which folks from various points of a professional career spanning 40-plus years thanked my friend for making a difference in their lives. No matter how in-depth or brief these encounters had been.

Of course, one could say this is all retrospect. Third-person observation. So let’s bring the discussion into the present and this particular situation. For starters: At the meeting to announce my friend’s departure from the firm, three senior members of the staff stood up individually, expressed their dissent and disgust, and then walked out of the room. Resumés from numerous others have been flying out into the job market on a daily basis. Four people have resigned and left for new jobs already –it’s been little more than a month. It seems the rest of the staff disagrees heartily with the misguided decision to apply this label to this person.

So you see, a label can serve to clarify, define or identify, no matter whether it refers to a person, an emotion, an event or product. But always consider the source of the label. What’s gone into it. The motivation behind it. The full meaning – actual and implied. Its objective. And then consider what – or who — the label is being applied to. Does it/they deserve that particular label? Is it correct or even appropriate?

Simply put: Always read the label carefully.


Don’t rely too much on labels, for too often they are fables.
– Charles Spurgeon

The Muse will be making quarterly appearances on this site.

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