Seven Laws of Unique Self Encounter: #3 – Labels Obstruct Contact by Marc Gafni

The following is an excerpt from Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment by Dr. Marc Gafni.  For the other 6 laws, see other posts on this site or Chapter 21 of the book–which is available for purchase here.

SEEN FROM ONE PERSPECTIVE, life is a series of encounters with other human beings. Of these encounters, the ones that are most profound, pleasurable, and transformative are Unique Self encounters.  The following is one of seven core rules that define a Unique Self encounter:

3. Labels  obstruct contact.

c. 2011. Photo used courtesy of Sura Nualpradid.

c. 2011. Photo used courtesy of Sura Nualpradid.


Labels can be anything from “smart,” “stupid,” “beautiful,” or “ugly,” to words noting race or religious affiliation or role designation. A label is naturally illuminating  when it describes or conveys important information about the object or subject being labeled, like properly labeled medicine. A label is blinding when it prevents your attention from actually settling directly on the object or subject that you are encountering. It is this kind of label that obstructs authentic contact between Unique Selves.


Janis did her internship at Bellevue Hospital on the locked psychiatric ward. After her first session, she hurried to leave the ward to get to class at NYU. When she went up to the guard and asked to be let out, he looked at her with a slightly surprised smile and asked, “What do you mean? I’m not going to let you out!”

Janis was a little bewildered by his answer, but tried to explain. “I’m a student at NYU and have to get to class. Can you please let me out?”

He laughed at her again incredulously.  “Yeah, right! And

I’m the dean of Harvard Law School. I can’t let you out!”

Janis suddenly realized she was stuck in a locked ward, and that anything she said would not be believed. She was locked in the guard’s conception of her as a patient!

Finally, after some panicked moments, she found a supervisor on the ward and told him what had happened. He looked at her, suppressing a smile, and asked, “But Janis, why were you asking a patient to let you out?”


Positive or negative, every blinding label builds walls. When you hold on to your labels and self-definitions (“I’m not good at this; I could never do that”), you refuse to treat yourself as a full human being with infinite potential. When you give labels to other people or types of people (“She’s bad with numbers,” “She’s a narcissist and can never heal”), you estrange yourself from other people’s Unique Selves. You are no longer able to make contact.

The most often mentioned ethical guideline in biblical mysticism— appearing no less than thirty-six times—is, “Deal kindly with the stranger.” A stranger is anyone whose Unique Self is blocked from view by a limiting label. This might be a label of their place of origin, family, nationality, or religion. It might be a carelessly affixed label of their ability or potential. Limiting labels often can refer to physical characteristics or psychological typologies of virtually any kind.

It is not that third-person descriptions, definitions, and categorizations are not helpful. They are. Accurate diagnosis in every field of endeavor is essential to wise and compassionate interaction, whether that is with your doctor, psychologist, romantic partner, or friend. There is a particular form of spiritual consciousness that resists or rejects all labels with the argument that you can do or be whatever you want, and labels simply serve to box you in. This is a partial truth, but like all partial truths, it is also a partial lie. Labels illuminate, reveal, and guide. But as much as they disclose and divulge, labels also obscure and obfuscate, and therefore stand against Unique Self encounters.

You often label compulsively to feel a sense of control and comfort in a situation. Naturally, these labels are often sloppy, inaccurate, or just plain false. A false label will yield false conclusions,  which will lead to wrong and destructive action. The simplest example is the destructive, heartrending result of labeling a child retarded or unteachable. At the same time, an accurate diagnosis of a learning disability might lead to wonderfully constructive interventions that heal hearts and open minds.

In Unique Self enlightenment, the absolute demand is to never let external labels transform the other into a stranger.

Labeling happens all the time, even when we don’t think we are doing it. We label ourselves, as well, in subtle and 3D-YourUniqueSelf-Coverpernicious  ways. “There is no possible way I could ever do that,” someone might say about an ambition or desire. That kind of sentiment is a kind of label that estranges us from ourselves. Such comments are certainties that lie. We hold them because they allow us a comfort zone in which we do not need to challenge our self-perceptions or stretch to the fullness of our Unique Selves. Labels are the archenemy of Unique Selves. Relying on labels is like trying to take someone’s fingerprint when they are wearing a Band-Aid.

The remaining laws will be shared in future blog posts on this site.

You can purchase the Your Unique Self book at>>