Circumstance: labels, branding and identity

“We cannot choose our external circumstances,
but we can always choose how to respond to them.”
– Epicteteus. Greek Stoic Philosopher, Slave (ca. 55 – ca. 135)
We often use circumstances to define and identify ourselves and others. It seems legal to do so. Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes several “approved” categories and the right to create sub-categories within these legislated guidelines. Our fundamental freedoms are grouped into: conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

The Canadian Charter of Rights includes Equality Rights:

“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

With this backing we create identities based on certain circumstances – race, religion, ethnicity, age, gender and so on. This provides an easy and understandable starting point to protect rights, but these “group circumstances” are far from the reality of defining who we really are as individuals.

Gangs brought together by socio-economic conditions share a feeling that they have something in common. Members give up their true individuality to band together. Eventually for some it becomes very problematic once they realize that they were meant to do something far different.

Even worse has occurred throughout history and continues today as people band together on nothing more than “group circumstances” and wage war, in one way or another, against those of another grouping.

At best, there are the more privileged rich who may be very generous and philanthropic with the inheritance or financial fortune bestowed on them. Even better is the movement by Bill Gates to encourage other billionaires to allocate more of their wealth to worthy charitable causes.

These “group circumstances” may not be circumstances as defined by Merriam-Webster. Instead of being conditions, facts, or events, they may be opinions, beliefs, or values. Creating these groupings is fine until they are used as reasons or excuses that keep people from moving ahead. Have you handicapped yourself by creating circumstances that prevent you from moving forward?

Your position in the organization, professional status or financial portfolio do not define who you are. There’s much more to it.

Some aspects of your life may be negative at a particular time. Don’t use those too-appropriate labels to describe your self or others – “loser”, “nerd”, “groupie”, “senior”, “brat”. Labels often stick for years if not a lifetime. Again, there’s much more to your character, values, attitude and skills than can be indicated by a label or two or even more.

Uncomplimentary adjectives have a belittling effect. “Lazy”, “dumb”, “cheap”, “rude”, “opinionated”, “stubborn”, “aloof” are derogatory terms that wouldn‘t get through the three Sufi checkpoints, especially the third:

1. Is it true?

2. Is it necessary?

3. Is it kind?

Perhaps most discouraging are those scornful descriptions that focus on appearances. “Fat”, “ugly”, “tubby”, “four-eyes”, “old” and similar degrading labels can be very hurtful.

Circumstances themselves have little, or nothing, to do with who a person is. Labels and branding do not identify us. We are so complex that simple words only describe a small part of us, and then may be invalid because of extenuating circumstances. It’s far better to live in the present and honestly discuss behaviours, thoughts and feelings based on the three Sufi guidelines.
“Circumstances are beyond human control,
but our conduct is in our own power.”
– Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister, Novelist (1804 – 1881) 
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