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I love the stories of Nasrudin, a character in Middle Eastern literature who was pictured with a goatee and a turban. He often said crazy things that had a kind of wisdom. For example…

A politician, who had agreed to meet Nasrudin for debate, went to his home at the appointed time and found he wasn’t there. Infuriated, the politician picked up a piece of chalk and wrote “Stupid Oaf” on his gate.

As soon as he got home and saw this, Nasrudin rushed to the politician’s house. “I had forgotten,” he said, “that you were to call. I apologize for not being home. Of course, I remembered the appointment as soon as I saw that you had left your name on the door.”

In today’s environment, maybe it’s not a bad idea to take just a moment and laugh at our all-too-human tendency to label others.

And it is a bit ridiculous. Someone does or says something that seems dumb to me, and I’m tempted to label them a “Stupid Oaf”—or worse—all on the basis of one statement or opinion.

But that would probably say more about me than about them. And one thing it would say is that I hadn’t worked very hard to see them as a person. As an Indian proverb says:

“When a pick-pocket looks at the greatest man in the world, all he sees are his pockets.”

Someone has said, “All labels are libels,” and I believe it’s true. Because labeling someone means behaving like that pick-pocket: we just focus on one small aspect of the person and use that to judge (usually, mis-judge) the entire person.

The truth is, every person, without exception, is a complex, one-of-a-kind human being with gifts and wounds, with successes and failures, with strengths and weaknesses. Every person, without exception, transcends any and all labels. There is more to every person than meets the eye.

Overcoming “Pick-pocket Syndrome”—trying to understand people (even with all their orneriness) rather than just label them—is hard work.

It’s a dirty job, but in times like these, someone’s got to do it.