Kind promise: I will open to this moment.

“Does he have an ADHD diagnosis?” Nellie* asked me about one of the children in our Sunday school class. She went on to describe Tommy*’s tendency not to finish projects along with other behaviors she finds irritating and disruptive to her teaching.  “He does have a lot of energy,” I observed and offered to give Tommy extra attention during project time.

We human beings are always reaching for understanding. If we notice some people tend to act in similar ways, we like to give that clump of behaviors a name. With advances in biochemistry, we can try to control attitudes and actions with medication. The whole thing gets tricky.

The day before Nellie asked me her question, I had a conversation with the sister of an adult with ADHD. The man had been diagnosed in his senior year of high school and, with diagnosis, received access to services and medication that he didn’t have earlier. He graduated from high school and went on to college and a career once he figured out what tools and environments he needed to be an academic success.

Labels can point us to batches of ideas that may help us get where we want to go.

Labels can also separate us from each other and even, sometimes, from ourselves.

I can’t tell by looking at people what their religious or cultural background is, what political views they hold or much about how they live their lives. But if you introduce a person by telling me he is a conservative Baptist from Alabama who was disappointed that Rick Santorum wasn’t the Republican presidential nominee and who owns two handguns, I will have all kinds of ideas about who he is and I will feel little kinship with him.

It’s natural to look for patterns and attach labels. By promising to open to this moment, I am inviting myself to understand labels as imaginary constructs, to hold them loosely and not let them define what’s happening now or separate me from the person I see before me.

Life colors outside the lines.


*Not their real names.