Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Experienced computer programmers know that in almost every computer program there is some task that needs to be done over and over again. For example: The job of processing a file of records is an iteration of the task – “get and process record”. These jobs are accomplished using iteration constructs. 

One such is the old Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL) PERFORM statement.  The PERFORM statement enables a programmer to write a set of instructions once and execute it many times during the program.  Each such perform statement has a name, a LABEL, by which it is referenced.  

Once written the set of computer instructions defined by the LABEL command can be used over and over without much thought.  The programmer just codes PERFORM:LABEL.   For example, this is much like when my mother used to tell my sister and me to wash the dishes.  She could have said,   PERFORM: Wash the dishes!!!  There are a lot of steps involved but she just had to use that one “PERFORM” statement!    

Computer programs are not the only places we find LABELS. It seems we're bombarded daily with LABELs, in MANY cases, unflattering LABELs, completely incorrect LABELs, hateful or malicious LABELs like…  Right Wing Conservative, Left Wing Socialist, Racist, Gay, Straight, Homeless, Poor, Rich, Terrorist, Muslim, Evangelist, Atheist, Christian,  Jew, yes... even Democrat or Republican.  And, of course, the worst label, Congressional Representative!!   The list is endless.

How easy it is to PERFORM: LABEL; to categorize a person or group by a single word, most often used in a derogatory manner.  By simply using the PERFORM verb, with one or more LABELS, we start off a chain of “instructions” which classifies the object as a completely horrible person.   It doesn’t take much thought and it so tidily sums up a person by attaching the right generalized LABEL. Using the LABEL allows us to categorize without thinking and looking below the surface.

For example I have found that these broad general LABELs are mostly superficial and should be avoided. (Not that I haven’t used them myself way too many times!!)   Looking at the LABEL of Campbell's Soup Can, we see clearly... TOMATO SOUP. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies have worked to improve labeling on products to provide specific information about what is BEHIND the LABEL, what really makes up the product in question.  On that same can of Tomato soup we can find complete nutrition information in addition to a list of all ingredients.  We don’t usually look at the ingredients; we just say “Let’s have some tomato soup”.  A look at the back of the can shows much more information about the product. 

Perhaps we should take a clue from these “detailed “ food product labels and start looking more closely at the ingredients, the details behind the labels that we throw around so carelessly.  That neighbor who seems to be a whining Left Wing Socialist who wants more government give-aways, or the despicable, arrogant Right Wing Republican down the street that drives the new BMW, may have details “on the back of the can” so to speak, that may prove that they are kind, considerate, loving, charitable and may actually have some intelligence behind their beliefs and convictions.  Or the Muslim, whom we may fear because we don’t know much about them but have heard that Muslims are all terrorists, may be loving and thoughtful.   

Or, what about that homeless man that is always dirty and may be looking for a handout or a hand up.  He may have a heart of gold and a story that would wrench your heart.  Or he or she may have faced heartbreaking situations that sapped their will to keep going in the face of such adversity.   

In my work with animal rescue a few years ago I was at a pet adoption event showing a number of the dogs that we had available.  A small family was attracted to one cute doggie and fell in love.   When I took the couple's Dog Adoption Application over for processing, the lady that was in charge of our group wanted to refuse the application. She said that “they looked poor and probably couldn't afford a dog.” That was a good example to me of PERFORM: LABEL.   She had already "categorized" the family without knowing anything about them.   In fact, I have seen homeless and very poor people who have dogs and have loved them more than most because they were most in need of love.  And the dogs, have only a few PERFORM statements like PERFORM:Love and Tail Wags.

So, as any good programmer knows, if you want your program to run flawlessly, make sure that when you PERFORM:LABEL, that the LABEL accurately and fairly describes the true person or group that you are addressing.  To paraphrase an old commercial tag line, "Look for God on the Label."  I'm checking my old programmed thoughts today to make sure my PERFORMS are "good code", as we geeks call it.

AS Jesus of Nazareth advised, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.    Matthew 7:1-3


Unknown said...

Excellent perspective. Being very involved in data and programming myself, I know we often use a Left or Right Join statement. So many of us would have more harmonious experiences if we remember to put less emphasis on "Labels" and extented our reach to left and right joins! :) THANK YOU for this terrific blog!

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