As I wrote in my last post, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that each of us has innate brilliance. And I often tell delegates on my training courses that we are all magnificent works in progress. When we deeply respect others, we get this point and are able to see their potential, (even though right now they may be manifesting more of their dark side than their brightness.) This approach makes for more harmonious families at home, more productive departments at work, more forgiving friendships in the pub and better football teams on a Saturday morning.

As Daisaku Ikeda explains: “We are unlimited beings. Our struggle to surmount our obstacles and sufferings and fulfil our dreams is always finally the struggle to overcome the limitations we have accepted within our own heart.”

Pic by Melson Diniz, SGI Brazil

Photo: Melson Diniz, SGI Brazil

The problem is that we’re hardwired to stereotype and label people, including ourselves. “He’s a complete jerk.” “She’s a total angel.” “They’re utter idiots.” Perhaps this sort of stereotyping served us well in our prehistoric days, when survival depended on deciding very quickly that a sabre-toothed tiger was always bad news, with no shades of grey… But in the modern age, when we use negative labels to describe people we’ve argued with, we prolong the rift and block the seeds of hope from which forgiveness and progress can bloom. (See a previous post called ‘The two words to ban from all your arguments.

But all of us are capable of evil and of good. A ‘cruel murderer’ can come home and show compassion to his children, a ‘kind nurse’ can come home from work and be aggressive to her family. As Nichiren says: “Even a heartless villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the bodhisattva world within him.” 

It’s only our untrusting obsession with certainty that wants to put people in these boxes and keep them there, to label someone as a complete hero, a complete zero or a total villain. And of course we tend to buy newspapers whose editors choose which stories to publish based on these black and white clichés and stereotypes – every story needs a goodie and a baddie, after all.

Labels describe your past, not your potential

We even do it in business and although psychometric tests do have value in terms of identifying strengths and weaknesses, people can too easily label themselves as a ‘Finisher’ or a ‘Plant’ or a ‘passive-aggressive’ or whatever moniker the computer churns out. In fact I recently coached someone on presentation skills who was convinced she would always have a problem with public speaking because a personality test had labelled her an ‘Introvert’. Likewise I found it interesting to discover that on the Myers-Briggs test I am an ‘ENFP’ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) but ultimately I feel that such labels are better at describing our past than our potential.

Somewhere along the line I also labelled myself as ‘not technical’ and ‘not good with IT.’ This belief (illusion as it turns out…) stopped me for months from beginning my Buddhist social media adventure. I chanted for hours to break through this and realised that my reluctance to Tweet, blog and facebook was really to do with a fear of expressing myself as me – after all I had earned my living in PR by writing words for other people. After nearly 42,000 hits on this site since January (thank you everybody 🙂 ) I am starting to realise that I can do this stuff after all.

Honour your talents, gifts and values

I believe that when we chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo we give ourselves permission to honour our talents, gifts and values – sometimes for the first time ever, often for the first time in a long while. So, might it be time to lose or at least question the labels? The ones you apply to yourself? And to others? Try chanting (or if you are not a Buddhist, do affirmations…) with this liberating spirit in your heart:

I am not the role I have played to survive so far, I am not my psychometric profile, I am not the product of my childhood, I am a Buddha, I am who I choose to become. And everyone else is a Buddha too…