Don't Label Me


 Don't Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times, by Irshad Manji

Irshad Manji is a person well worth following; she's just so interesting!  For several years she's had the Moral Courage Project on Youtube, which is about getting people of opposing viewpoints together to discuss solutions.  Manji dislikes labels because she feels, rightly enough, that they diminish our humanity and complexity.   As both a devout Muslim and a lesbian, she tends not to fit neatly into the expectations those labels generate.

The foundational conceit of the book is Manji's own experience with dogs.  Raised to fear and loathe dogs as unclean and dangerous, Manji discovered a whole new dimension to life when she ventured to get to know dogs -- and the woman who became her wife.  Here, Manji sets up her thesis as a fictional conversation between her and Lily, urging all of us to look past our labels and our fears, and talk honestly with each other -- not to score points or win arguments, but to ask real questions that show a desire to understand.  She uses other personal stories and champions what she calls "honest diversity," moving past labels in order to truly get to know others and why they believe what they do.

And so, Irshad Manji asks us all to put aside offense and blame, to rethink our values, and to engage with one another.  It's highly readable, full of interesting ideas.  I'm not sold on the dog-conversation part but people who love dogs will probably enjoy it more, and I think it does serve to make it all easier to absorb -- and Lily does like to quote Bruce Lee, which is fun.  But it is a little twee in spots.  Regardless, Manji has a lot of good stuff to say.

[Brie] Loskota says, "Love that's reserved only for people who agree with you isn't love.  It's narcissism."  She's all for diversity, but she's put her finger on the way we're going about it; as a win-lose game.

Purity contaminates diversity.  To be pure is to wall ourselves off from influences so novel that they could transform us.  But many of us don't want to be transformed; we want the other side to be.  Behold a flagrant contradiction, Lil: in rhetoric, our side touts diversity yet, in action, we prioritize purity.

[Clinging to identities] has deep implications for democracy.  If someone makes an argument that questions mine, about anything that gets my blood racing, I'll double down on my view because I've equated my view to my identity.  So any threat to my view becomes a threat to me.  That's how authoritarians behave, Lil.  That's why the politics of identity -- whether Trump's or ours -- devastate democracy.

11 steps for honest diversity:

  1. Self-evaluate.  Habitually.
  2. Defy the Man for one hour a week (talk in person, offline).
  3. Launch the conversation by asking, "Could you help me understand what I'm missing about your perspective?"
  4. Listen to understand, not to win.
  5. Ask more questions based on what you've heard.
  6. Express your gratitude with tone and body language.
  7. When dealing with your Other, don't berate.  Relate.
  8. Take a breath or three.
  9. Be open to changing your mind.
  10. Be cool with non-closure.
  11. Walk away if you must, but not prematurely.


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