Lose the label, look to the substance

I hate labels – as in the labels we routinely slap onto people as a way of dismissing them without further thought. 

I’m not a natural supporter of Tony Abbott, the former Aussie prime minister who’s just been appointed an expert advisor to the UK’s Board of Trade. He’s not to my political taste. But many people, it seems, are questioning his fitness for his new job on the basis of past remarks that are allegedly homophobic and misogynistic.

Now, it might be that Abbott has made comments which many people don’t like – and I could Include myself in that number. But to question his ability to act as a trade advisor on the basis of his alleged opinions in other areas is surely illogical. Especially as, according to several women who know him well – including his own gay sister – he is neither homophobic nor misogynistic. But sticking these labels onto him is an easy – and I think lazy – way of simply signalling disapproval of the man.

If we’re going to criticise his appointment, let’s do it on the basis of his past record in trade negotiations, which appears to be thin, to say the least. And let’s focus on the UK government’s willingness to appoint people to positions of power and influence on the basis of their political loyalty and ideology, rather than their ability and experience.

Creative conversation, which I champion, starts with understanding first – that is, seeking to be fair and accurate in how we represent others based on what they actually say and believe, rather than knee-jerk prejudice about them based on simple, dismissive labels.

That way, what we say is much more likely to be taken seriously than dismissed in turn as the knee-jerk reaction it is.