Labels are man-made constructs. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. Our society and culture seem to be fixated with them and is ever creating new ones. Our labels are warring with each other. We seem to forget that we are the same person after they have been bestowed, as we were before they were given. They don’t change anything. A label only places boundaries around us and makes us smaller. Lumping us into a collective group mindset merely takes away our individuality, and the ability for others to see the unique blueprint that God created. We are sidetracked by the label, and it sometimes causes us to form some pretty inaccurate and unfair truths about our self and each other.
We all have them….those pesky labels. They are given to us by the humans around us at birth. As we grow, we may even give them to ourselves. Each and every one evokes images and stereotypes and a prescribed set of expectations. Why do we insist on putting each other into boxes like that? We want the good ones, but not the bad. Are we magical or muggle? I don’t think you can have it both ways.
I have worn many labels in my years on the blue planet. Some have sadly been shed with age or life stage. Some have I’ve worn proudly and embraced. And others….not so much. Maybe I’ve even used a few as an excuse to do or not do something. I have been labeled with the dichotomous gender specific noun of female with the subsets of daughter, granddaughter, sister, girlfriend, niece, wife, sister-in-law, mother, aunt, mother-in-law, and grandmother. I have been labeled with the generic nouns throughout my years that defined some of my roles such as swimmer, cheerleader, runner, heterosexual, cousin, student, Bulldawg, fiancé, teacher, friend, volunteer, writer, middle-class, and Christian. I have been labeled with adjectives such as quiet, shy, white, non-confrontational, pleaser, introverted, athletic, phobic, intellectual, perfectionistic, short, highly sensitive, OCD, directionally-challenged, conservative, ADD, and non-musical to describe my personality. I’m sure this list could be exhaustive in almost every category. So.many.labels.
I don’t think I ever really thought much about labels until I became a teacher. In the microcosm of the academic world, it was a driving force for me. Schools most certainly label kids with the copious records that are kept. I learned very quickly not to even read the information given to me about a student until I had the chance to interact with them. I did not want to be predisposed to let the label taint who I found them to be within the boundaries of our relationship. I hoped and prayed that everyone did exactly the same thing for my sons. It is only logical that this practice of finding my own truth should bleed over into my dealings in the macrocosm of the everyday world instead of allowing culture to drive my thoughts with their labels. I’m not so sure that I have been as diligent here. Shouldn’t we always try to peel away the label to find the person? I need to reinstate that habit.
The point is that labels are an ever changing kaleidoscope that shift and overlap to form complicated images of who I am…. who we are. Yet each label forms a specific and almost fixed mindset. We are all somewhere along the broad spectrum of any particular label, so it can never be a one size fits all. As you look over that list of my labels, each one evokes a category in your mind. I may or may not fit neatly inside. You and I could have all of my labels in common and yet be VERY different people. The permutations and combinations are infinite. We all probably even possess a smidgen of all labels. I can sometimes be extroverted among my peeps in my introverted world. In my perfectionism, I can squeeze the toothpaste in the middle and put the cap on willy-nilly. Embracing my lack of musical talent, I can sing out loudly and proudly in my car. I can also let my OCD work wonders for me when I need to get organized and finish a project well.
As a wise and dear friend (Thanks L.A.) once pointed out, we all have our little eccentricities and it really just depends on by how much these conditions affect our day-to-day living and interacting with others. I can neither trumpet my labels nor hide behind them. Our labels don’t define us, nor are they an excuse to be less than the best version of ourselves. Life is all about taking the gifts that you have been given and making your world work for you.” Such wise counsel! We can’t let our labels prevent us from doing just that.
So, friends, can we just peel off the labels all together and find that wonderful human that God created us to be to live out the best version of our self?
“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people”
~ Martina Navratilova