“The critics slap labels on you and then expect you to talk inside their terms.”Doris Lessing
We can pretend all we want that we don’t label and judge people. I like to think I’m not judgmental. Yet I can’t help but to notice things about people and make assumptions on those observations. Of course this gets dangerous when we enter the realm of race and stereotypes. Our brains love making connections to things that might not necessarily be true. Let’s look at how labels hurt, but also at how they might help. First, let’s define our terms.
These are your obvious labels that everyone rags on. Someone spots someone else and thinks: “They are _____ so they must ______”. These false assumptions that get people into enormous trouble, and for good reason. People deserve to make an impression before we doom them to some pre-defined expectation of them. When we close our hearts and minds to someone before they even get the chance to make the case, we’re doing an injustice to them and ourselves. Who knows the kinds of knowledge we could have learned if we’d just given someone a chance to share their truth.
There’s also poisonous self-labeling too. I see this in myself and all my friends, mostly in the form of self-deprecating humor. It’s all well and good when we’re joking, but when we take these feelings to heart that we run into trouble. If you genuinely believe you’re stupid, genuinely believe you’re a bad person, then that’s a self-label. In order for them to exist, we must believe they’re true to some degree, and we think they’re true because we’ve either been told that or lived through experiences that we believe confirm our suspicions.
Positive labels are ones that imply virtuous traits or personal abilities. If you call yourself generous, then that’s a positive label. Things that people generally look up to. Compliments are largely positive labeling. “I like that you’re honest.” “Wow, you’re very athletic, aren’t you?” These can also be self-applied. By definition these might be considered healthier when self-applied, but this can be considered egotistical. Most people would give you a pass on this as being prideful, and at least in American culture, it’d be considered a good thing.
These are labels that imply neither a largely positive or negative connotation. “I am a help desk technician.” “He is an adult.” “She is tall.” Some might associate these with certain traits, but most people won’t think much of them.
Labels As A Whole
Let’s consider now what the purpose of a label is. Labels give our brains an easy out. Largely I’d say we’re naturally lazy beings. We’ll look for the path of least resistance when it comes to most things, and I’d say thinking is included in that when It’s done passively. If we can simply slap a label on someone rather than trying to suss out what reality is then that saves us time and mental energy. It’s so unfortunate how much we’ll trade what’s right for what’s convenient.
Remember to be mindful out there and give people a chance.
Side Question On Professional Labels
At which point should one consider themselves an artist? Is there a certain number of prerequisite paintings one must paint to be called a painter? Is there a number of hours of writing one should do before they should label themselves as a writer? This is a personal question. I feel like I should have considerate chops in any field before I label myself as being a “-er” of anything. What do you think?
~I’m a blogger, a writer, an omisexual, a male, a post-college individual, a…~