Time to Stop Labeling & Start Engaging?

–How Your Approach Can Help Or Hurt Your Cause

In a world of causes and labels, it can seem fitting that we need to jump on a cause and make sure we lead with it in all that we do. We want to make sure we get the word out, bring support to our side of the argument, or just win over friends and allies to our cause. In fact, if we are not doing this, it can feel like we are not doing our part to support the community in which we surround ourselves. I have even witnessed people abandoning long term friends because they did not feel the other person took a hard enough stance on an issue.

But by leading with the labels we feel are so important are we sometimes stopping people at the door before they have a chance to knock?

Think about how often you avoid a salesperson in a store because you already know what they want to approach you to discuss. As soon as they are within range, we avoid eye contact, perhaps change our route, or scoot past as quickly as possible. All because, we have a perception of already knowing what their mission is and whether or not we want to engage in a discussion about their product, service, or issue.

When I look to myself, I have to assess the issues that I want to bring light to in the world. I often ask myself: How can I best advocate for the causes that are important in my life? How can I reach the most people, with the biggest impact, that will leave a lasting impression in regards to the things I care about most? How do I avoid becoming the salesperson in the store everyone sees coming and tries to avoid?

When I have a cause that I greatly care about, or that hits close to home, the end goal is to be an ambassador for that cause, to win people over to a new way of thinking and viewing that cause. The first chance to be able to open a conversation is to find common ground. If we cannot find some common ground, then we could be standing on different continents, shouting our point of view across the vast oceans that separate our ways of thinking.

But if we first find common ground, in anything else, we can endear ourselves to each other, invest in a relationship, and then speak respectfully and listen with a more open and caring heart. Common ground paves the way to understanding and empathy.

Hearts are often closed to ideas where they see no common ground.

Dr. Melissa Hughes shares an insightful everyday example of this in her recent video in which she tells a story that enlightens us about two women, who without common ground, might have otherwise never given the other the time of day. I highly recommend you give it a watch below:

So what cause do you greatly care about? What group might you want to bring attention to? Are you leading a charge for this cause like a general marching through lands yet to concur? Or are you opening up dialogue through diplomatically seeking common ground? True supporters are never conquered, they are won over.

I am gay, but not gay first. What I mean by not being gay first, is that it is not the first thing that people usually learn about me. And that is by design. Not because I am ashamed of being gay. Not because I feel I need to hide it or I will not be accepted. Not because I feel it has no place in the conversation. And definitely not because I do not care for the gay community or advancement of acceptance.

In fact, it is quite the opposite. I spent years being ashamed of who I was. I felt for years that I needed to hide it or I would not be accepted. But those years are behind me. It was those years that forged the awareness of the acceptance needed in many hearts still today. It was those years that helped me to understand the importance of having a conversation. And it was those years, and my time opening up to the world, that made my heart grow for the community in which I have now accepted my place.

It is because these conversations are so important to be had, and that new hearts still need to be opened up, that I do not lead with being gay. It is because I want more people to hear my message, that I first give them a glimpse of the rest of me.

I am so much more than just a gay man and if I do not want the world to put me in a box, a category, or stick me with a label, then I need to make sure the world sees all that I bring to the table. I am a father, a community leader, a writer, a friend, a brother, uncle, son, speaker, and at times a jokester. We find common ground with members of our community, our friends, and families through so many different pieces of the puzzle that make up the complex unique person each of us is. To let anyone of those overpower above all others, can reduce the chance to open up much-needed conversations. Of course, the opposite is just as true: to hide any pieces of our own puzzle also squanders the chance to find common ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there is a place on the board for all of the players. Life can be a chess match. Calculating moves and watching the board in order to know which players may be needed for each situation. No game is won using any single piece. Sometimes you need a rook or a knight fighting for a cause with a strong hand and loud voice. Some moves just need a pawn sent in to lay the groundwork. And there are definitely days where it doesn’t hurt to have a good queen on your side.

There may be a time and place to shout your message, to run down the streets loud and proud, but that does not have to be every day. We need to learn when the appropriate time is to use each strategy and player on the board. We need more conversations and fewer shouting matches. These conversations will start when we truly find common ground first.

So when you look at the cause you care most about. Is it children’s welfare, animal rights, the environment, or a specific political or social issue? Whatever it is, consider setting it aside just long enough to find common ground first. Consider it building a strong foundation for a better conversation and even a chance to gain a stronger ally for your cause. Give someone the chance to knock on your door for any other reason first. Then and only then can you lead into an open conversation about those things closest to your heart in a way that may find an opening into theirs.

Thank you for finding common ground with me today. I look forward to your comments and thoughts as we all work towards making the world a better place one conversation at a time.


Andy Vargo
Andy Vargo
Keynote speaker, life coach, author and entertainer, Andy Vargo is all about helping you live your best life by learning how to ‘Own Your Awkward’! If you ever feel awkward about yourself, then you can understand how Andy Vargo lived the first forty years of his life. Coming out of the closet at forty doesn’t define him, pursuing his passion to help others does. During the day, Andy works corporate and school events as a motivational speaker and helps people master life changes as a one on one life coach. At night you can find him working stages around the northwest as a comedian making light of his journey with the gift of laughter. Awkward is not only his brand, but his style as Andy encourages each of us to ‘Own Your Awkward’ and be true to your genuine selves. In addition to authoring the Awkward Journal Series, Andy hosts the podcast, Own Your Awkward, co-hosts the Be The Better Local Show on BD Local and shares thoughts and ideas in his blog and video series available at awkwardcareer.

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  1. This is such a great piece, Andy! I’m humbled that you included my Neuro Nugget. I love the point you make about finding common ground first. If we can’t do that, we might as well be on “…different continents, shouting our point of view across the vast oceans that separate our ways of thinking.”

    At a time when we certainly seem to have mountains of differences, this piece should be required reading for everyone.

  2. If we want a better world, then the priority is to face the most serious problems, which are all planetary, like global warming. These challenges require a dialoguing and cohesive world to be addressed: no sovereign state can face them alone, and seeing other countries as “rivals” or even “enemies” makes constructive dialogue more unlikely.