How would you describe the nicest vacation you have ever taken, if you could only use one word? How about how it felt the first time you got your feelings hurt? What word would you use to describe your earliest positive or negative memory? Chances are you cannot remember and describe every detail about these experiences, but the labels you have given them are probably firmly etched in your mind. When you think back about these or other memories, the first thing comes to your mind is the label, and your mind then uses that label to fill in the blanks around it. The fact is, this doesn’t apply only to memories, because we are constantly applying labels to every experience we have. The labels we choose—or let other choose for us—are what ultimately determine the context and meaning behind everything we experience, good or bad.
Anyone with the slightest amount of objectivity would agree that we look at ourselves, other people, our circumstances, and everything else around us through filters that we have consciously or subconsciously constructed. We simply see what we look at and find what we look for, and take what we see as “the truth” for granted while rejecting every other perspective as wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to support them. But knowing this makes no difference when we feel strongly about our worldview. When we are right, we are right and that’s that! We make up our mind which politician we are going to support or which department we are going to give our allegiance to, come hell or high water, and we end up doing everything we can to point to the speck in “those other people’s” eye while ignoring the plank in our own. We all have the tendency to act as if a foolish consistency is some kind of virtue, rather than “the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson put it.