I’m not good at categorizing things. Recently, whenever my kids see an animal, they ask me what it is. Besides the more broader terms like “a bird” or “a cat”, I can’t go in depth at all about the various species. I’m just not good at categorizing or labelling things, not just animals, but in all different kinds of areas. There are drawbacks to this and advantages.

 

THE DRAWBACKS

Categories/labels help us to have a common terminology. Whatever the cultural group, understanding what the definition (not just the denotative but also connotative definition) of words brings people to the same page. For instance, when someone claims to be “emergent” (in ecclesiology), it provides that group with a language that’s already understood without having to explain it all over again. To understand such designations helps to quickly distinguish one concept from another.

 

THE ADVANTAGES

One problem I have with people being able to classify concepts neatly into these categories is they can become very presumptive. For instance, if I use the word “baptist”, there are certain connotations of what a “typical” Baptist is. I had a conversation today with a friend who juxtaposed a Baptist understanding with a Charismatic understanding. When I mentioned that within our denomination, there are Baptist charismatics, he took him aback for a minute, because such a concept was never even considered. To not easily categorize people or ideologies allows that person to actually explain what they think/believe/understand without presuming what we think they really know. This is actually a very useful skill to have in coaching  because it stops us from presuming what the person is articulating and actually forces us to listen and be curious about what’s really going through their mind.

At times, not knowing all these categories or labels demonstrates my ignorance in certain subjects (ok, many subjects). But it helps me to remain curious and to actually allow my conversation partner to express what s/he is really thinking, not what I think s/he is thinking. (Hopefully that’ll keep me out of most trouble without being presumptuous.)

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