Have you ever wondered, I mean really wondered about humans’ need to label? We label everything. I don’t mean just name, I mean label. Every name even has connotations for us in some form or another. ‘Pillow’ usually means comfort, but sometimes lazy. Certain foods often taste good or bad because of our experiences around them. How many times have you or someone you know said they liked a certain food before becoming ill after eating it? Their illness might or might not have been caused by the food, but their experience keeps them from enjoying it now.
Names for people are the same. You might have had a lovely friend growing up by the name of Jennifer and so you are predisposed to like people with that name. On the other hand, you might have had a wretched experience with someone named Steve and so you immediately shy away from others with the same name, regardless of who they are or what they do.
Some things we automatically label ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on culture or the perceived quality. Motorcycles are often viewed as ‘bad’ because of their link in popular culture with a criminal element or extreme risk takers. Kayaks and bikes, in my area of the country, are associated with the ‘crunchy’ element, or the naturalists, and therefore ‘good’.
Of course, many things have labels that are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but humans do love their dichotomies. We love to focus on and express ourselves in association with these labels. We are accepted, belong, have connections with others based on the things we want to be connected to.
Pet owner, hiker, writer, reader, introvert… Now, depending on your experiences with any of the above words, you can now assess your thoughts and, let’s be honest, judgements about me. Interestingly, the way I interpret the labels above may be different from your interpretations, but that is a subject for another time.
How often do we stop and reassess our labels and why we have them? Are there labels you shunned when you were younger, but are now beginning to accept? Which labels do you authentically embrace and which ones do you accept because you think you are supposed to?
Understanding your labels and really being aware of where they come from gives you control. It keeps you from accepting something just because that is the way it always has been. It allows you to decide what is truly yours and what you have just internalized, maybe unconsciously.
Where do your labels come from? Are they your experiences or someone else’s? Is this just something you have always thought, you’re not sure why, or have you really sat and made a conscious decision to choose the connotations of a particular label?
This knowing keeps us from being automatons. It keeps us from being lemmings in a mob. It might just keep us from going over that cliff. How we view genders, races, political action, even food and traditions comprises our identity and reflects who we are internally. Isn’t it better that those reflections are well thought out and understood in both our greater story and the greater context of our community and society? A little more responding and a little less reacting in the area of labels might provide better bridges and connections to each other across the seemingly great divides.