Tell Me What You Are, Not What You’re Not

I had a really great half-drunken discussion at a party in LA over a year ago wherein a biologist told me why he doesn’t like to be called an Atheist, despite the fact that he technically is.

“I don’t like to be identified by what I’m not, I prefer to take on labels that say what I am.”

This discussion has had a significant impact on me (which is hopefully clear from the fact that I still remember it in detail a year later), as the point is so simple yet oft-ignored.

When we identify ourselves by what we are not rather than what we are, we put limitations on ourselves and tell others little except that we are contrary people.

Using a more trendy example to emphasize the point, say someone tells me that they hate the iPhone.

What exactly have I learned about this person?

I’ve learned that they don’t like the iPhone — for whatever reason — but wouldn’t I have learned more if they would have told me they are big fans of Android phones? Or prefer Blackberries to the alternatives? All I get from this statement is negativity, while if they would have focused on a statement of what they actually enjoy, I would have been able to glean more useful information from the conversation.

Back to the original example, if I say that I am somewhat of a Rationalist and a bit of a Humanist, this implies much, including that I focus more on the Secular than the Faith-Based philosophies, but it doesn’t go out and slap anyone else (or their beliefs) in the face, either.

And perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t limit me. If I were to be given rational evidence of the existence of a Higher Being, for example, the Atheist me would have to change my belief system completely, whereas Rationalist Humanist me is able to continue on, philosophies still intact.

Don’t limit yourself by telling others what you’re not, instead tell them what you are. Try this for a week and see how you feel.

I’ve found it to be immensely liberating.

What are you?

Update: January 6, 2017

Still a valid point I adhere to.

Though reading back through it, I wish I would have pointed out that rather than simply making you seem oppositional and contrary, defining yourself by what you’re not attaches your ideologies to existing labels, which can then be misinterpreted or biased against. All labels have intellectual and historical baggage, so saying you’re someone who doesn’t like the iPhone positions you in a way, but it’s also not a reliable way of seeing yourself, as the perception of the iPhone can change over time (as it has to a large degree since this original post was written: back then it was an expensive, high-society, media professional sort of phone, while today it’s still relatively expensive, but is far more common and not considered to be so potentially pretentious).

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