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Thinking in labels

Is he hungry or a Himesh fan?
Is he hungry or a Himesh fan?

Labels are valuable. They save lives and, at least partly, have ensured human race survived to this day.

The early man saw a lion and thought, “Dangerous” and ran. Of course, sometimes the lion would be a non-violent kind or a vigilante who only ate evil animals or abhorred human flesh or lazy or not even hungry – but survival was more important to our primitive uncle than understanding the niceties of the leonine mood.

There was a time when I thought exclusively in labels. Years ago, but the time did exist.

Anyone who had a car in the eighties came from a family of moneyed blood suckers who built their wealth on the toil and tears of the hardworking poor. Rich puppy! Undeserving parasite wallowing in the luxury of the ill gotten wealth of his father. Too much seventies Amitabh, I guess.

Anyone from Delhi was a super fast man of the world, full of street smarts to even sell a dead rat to pest control.

Anyone who didn’t go to an IIT, and this I admit with a lot of embarrassment, was a below par sub humanoid. Anyone who didn’t study science in 10+2 didn’t exist.

Pithy approximations based on my limited view of the world to help build a model and make sense of it.

And then, as my world expanded, I met kids with a car in the eighties as nice, warm, ambitious, hardworking and fun as anyone; Delhi kids as naive as anyone from Sitapur and Sitapur kids who could sell off your ears without you realizing you’ve lost them; Humanities graduates who would outscore me every single time in, woe betide, Computers – which I thought had to be my bunny owing to my premier engineering degree and high voltage work experience building IC design software.

That’s when it occurred to me – labels limit. If you only see in black and white, you miss the colors. If you only see in red, blue, green, you miss the shades. The real world is far too complex, real people have way too many nuances.

Both are "Bow-wows" for the 2 year old Aujas
Both are “Bow-wows” for the 2 year old Aujas

For the two year old Aujas, both the dog and the cow are “Bow-wows” and it helps him decide to run when he sees either. As he grows up, he will realize that everything walking on four legs is not “Bow wow”.

However, we can’t entirely discard labels too. For one, they are too deeply ingrained in us, a survival trait sustained by organic evolution, and then, in the times of information overload, they may help us stay sane.

Thinking in labels is so powerful that the entire marketing industry revolves around pasting the desired label on an idea, product, brand or a person. The easiest way to win over millions of people is to build the right label and make it stick.

Congress has been trying to fix “Maut ke saudagar” on Modi for ten years now while BJP jostles to paste “Development Superman”. Similarly, labels of “Pappu” and “Reluctant prince with a heart that bleeds gold” compete to find a firm place somewhere on Rahul Gandhi’s visage.

“Elite”, “Intelligentsia”, “Masses”, “Classes”, “Communal”, “Secular” and the flavor of the season, “Anarchist”. Labels are omnipresent.

Smart ass advice 1: Labels make us a victim of, “Has a tail, is a ‘Bow wow'” logic.  Avoid them.

Smart ass advice 2: We will forever be susceptible to labels – create the right one & slap it on with the stickiest glue when selling something.



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