Monday, April 14, 2008

Labels

It is the human condition to want to label things. To pigeonhole life into something that we can categorize and understand. And, for the most part, that makes sense. It's a skill you learn early, like how to sort toys, and how all the socks go in one specific drawer. Learning your colors is visual labeling in action-- grass is green, the sky is blue, and the sun is yellow. God's coloring book.

It becomes less sensible when you're talking about people, however. There is the tendency to label people, because that's an easy way to keep track of who is whom in this constant stream of faces that pass before you daily. "Oh, you know who I'm talking about! She's that tall black woman who has the piercing in her nose!" While we don't consciously intend to insult the person we're describing, it does seem sort of callous to codify our mystery lady solely by race, or height, or by what we might think of as her "exotic" jewelry.

Some labels are just darn hurtful: spic, lesbo, retard. Why should ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical or mental infirmity carry any weight when we think of people? It shouldn't, and yet it does; quite often, in fact. I know I'm even guilty of it, and it's usually innocuous, but that doesn't make it hurt any less. I know that I'm often hurt deeply by the label "fat." It doesn't make it any less true, but it's a hurtful designation. I can imagine that it's also very painful to Latinos, lesbians, and the mentally handicapped. Small wonder.

We even label ourselves. Most of you reading this would happily add "blogger" to your life's CV. We pin on other labels as well: wife, uncle, mother, son, friend, teacher, pharmacist, human. It's the easy way out. We can group other people in with us -- with our likes and hobbies -- with barely a flutter of recognition that we may be putting a limit on what makes us who we are.

We are all so much more than the individual parts. I know that I would not be fully happy with only one label to my name. Is being a daughter more important than being a mother? Is being a wife not as important, somehow just *less*, than being a teacher? Why do we place such emphasis on ways to pin down who and what we are? When will we ever learn to appreciate each other for our diversity and unique talents instead of deriding them? It's far too cliche to say "Can't we all just get along?", but that's essentially what it boils down to. The human race is so competitive that we can rarely ever cheer on the 'other guy' without seeking to devalue him by placing a designation on him. And today, I just find that sad.

3 comments:

liz said...

I wrote about this for my speech that hopefully will get picked for graduation.

I think you put it better, though.

Have you checked out Shapely Prose? The community there has just been so uplifting for me.

Gawdess said...

I think about this a lot and I think you just did a great job of putting it into words.

liz said...

I posted my speech. I didn't make the speech finalists. Sigh.