Looking Beyond Labels

People loooooove to label themselves, and even more so people love to label other people. Sometimes they want and work hard to get certain labels put on themselves, but sometimes, they do not like the ones being put on them. There are lots of labels…

Geek, jock, redneck, obese, depressed, tree-hugger, left-wing, right-wing, middle-class, super-rich, black, white, yellow, atheist, Christian, Jewish, Methodist, Protestant…

At the same time a label is attached, a set of complimentary attributes is attached on whomever the label belongs. Moreover, everyone has his own set of adjectives to slap on to other people. It works like this… You are a geek, and therefore you must be a genius who likes Star Wars but are socially inept and boring. Or, you look like a jock, and therefore you must be proficient in many sports but you probably do not have a brain and will always act like a frat boy.

You can obviously observe that everyone is different in his or her unique ways. However, there is a distinction from simply observing, accepting, understanding, and appreciating the differences than labeling each other in a desecrating and segregating manner, which is what labels are mostly about nowadays. It is absurd and stupid but it is happening all around us with high frequency in our society. People are people. People are not labels.

Do you know the notion that often follows implicitly the sentences that label?

I am such and such and you are not…
You are such and such…
…therefore, I am better than you. Ha!
…therefore, I am right and you are wrong. Loser!
…therefore, you suck. Go home and cry to your mama!

It is natural human instinct to seek security, comes as a survival instinct of the animal kingdom. People probably flock to these labels because label provides them a sense of security by allowing them to associate with groups. However, there comes a time when we need to see that it is hurting us all together. People have complexity and at the same time, lots of commonality.

Label separates us. Label creates hurt feelings. Label often leads to anger, resentment, and hatred. Label limits a person within what the label stands for. In a way, label is another way ego manifests itself, where a set of “should-have”, “should-be” attributes and qualities that is provided through labels.

Label makes us judge prematurely, and keeps us from genuinely connecting with people. It holds us back from the exerting the effort to get to know others for who they really are. What we can do instead is, throw away the labels and open the mind and heart to truly listen, understand, and feel who someone really is. This is the way to create meaningful relationship.

One great but sad example is how people are “diagnosed” with depression and other so-called physcological symptoms these days. You can tell I am not a big fan of this. It is sad because these fellow human beings would get labeled and forever carry a stigma. It is sad because the best cure for many of them is for others to sincerely care, show kindness, and perhaps connect with them as persons. However, once they are labeled, people treat them differently, shun them, and call them creepy, weird…

I am not upset but to use myself as an example… I am Chinese and was born in Hong Kong, and I am a computer science graduate, which tosses me into the geek label. I may have some attributes associated with those labels, but I as a person is so far and remote from being ONLY what those labels denote. I am me, not those labels. I am me, not my name Kin, because name is just something that other people call you, as in label. I am me.

I am especially displeased with the events that label causes in terms of religion. Not that religion is a bad. You are this and I am that, and we cannot be friends. You are atheists and you must be a cruel, cold-blooded being. People focus way too much on what religion they belong — the label — to a level of obsession. Is that what religion is about? Does it really matter which one you or others choose? My answer is no. You know what is one common theme amongst the teachings of all religions, new and old, large or small?

Compassion — a genuine concern and understanding and wish of well being for people and nature because they are all connected.

The moment people focus on labels, the moment they lose sight of compassion. Religion itself has a good purpose, but people have the tendency to lose focus on compassion participating in the other aspects in religion.

Label separates people. I say get rid of all labels. Stop using labels.

2 Responses to “Looking Beyond Labels

  • 1
    Slax
    May 2nd, 2008 17:18

    Woah dude ! I think you’re taking these “labels” way too seriously. I mean, sure, the first impression you get from a person is often a complete stereotypical idea which is 90% of the time 100% wrong :

    example : “fat, glasses, squared shirt… He’s a complete no-life geek !!!”

    But still, that shouldn’t stop you from at least making contact with this person (if that was the original idea, I don’t mean you have to try talking to every single person you meet, that’s just impossible), for a whole bunch of reasons :

    - Never judge a book by its cover
    - You might like what you find under the cover
    - If you don’t, the person can still be interesting, though not your type (intellectually, not talking physical here)
    - etc… you get the picture

    Agreed, that’s easier said than done, and the common behavior is :

    “This guy/girl is totally not like me… I’ll avoid him/her because he/she is SO lame.”

    And agreed, that’s a shame. But see it on the lighter, less dramatic side. Labels are like key-words in Google (geek label for me :P ), they help you get an overview of who you’re dealing with, and that’s helpful for instance when you need a specific service.

    “This guy is a bit of a geek and my laptop broke down, I’ll go see if he can fix it for me”

    or

    “Shit, I can’t get this stupid door open because the hinges are rusty and half-broken, I’ll ask the quarterback from the football team to help me out”

    And that works also without the service part, you just have to be a minimum open-minded. In my opinion, what you’re mad at are first impression labels, which you probably use too (I’d have doubt if you said you were completely first-impression-free) and most of all, people who stick to those first impression labels. These specific labels need to be dealt with differently, they must have a sort of removable/editable property on very short term, because as I said above, a first impression can be 100% wrong and that’s just a plain fact. And true, lots of people stick to a first impression so bad that it offenses/hurts others, and agreed that sucks.

    But still, legit labels are ok, they help you confirm you belong to a specific group (doesn’t have to be a closed group mind you) and the need of belonging to a group is lower on Maslow’s pyramid than of esteem or self-actualization, which in my opinion is what this issue is about ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs ), at least from your point of view (I may be wrong, and I may be expressing myself really incomprehensibly, so you might not get where I’m going here).

    Yes, labels separate people, but then again everyone is different from everyone else, so originally everyone is separated from the start. the way I see it, groups unite people with a common spec/interest/goal/whatever, and for instance when you’re in a tennis group it doesn’t mean you can’t also be in basketball or swimming group. That doesn’t apply once you see it from a political or religious point of view when it comes to belonging (kinda hard to be left-wing AND right-wing…), but that doesn’t mean you can’t accept others, I’m sure you have friends from tons of countries in the world, with tons of religious views and political opinions, and you’re still friends, right ? You can see things both ways, like in most issues (disputable). Don’t you think ?

  • 2
    Kin
    May 2nd, 2008 22:48

    Wow, I guess I came across too seriously. I am not really mad at just the first-impression-label. It is much more than that. But first of all, I am definitely not saying I am right.

    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is indeed an intereseting and quite a solid theory/model/study and is remotely related to this topic but not really. It is about human’s growth potential as they satisfy hierarchy of needs while the post was about people’s ways of using labels are causing harms to each other.

    It is not that label is wrong per se, nor the fact that people should all be the same. The beauty of this world lies in differences and imperfection. The thing I am most mad at is the use of label to justify themselves, to alienate others, or to demote others. That is what leads to in-acceptance and the inability to see things in wide perspective, or as you said, both ways.

    It is not my intention to force others to accept my opinion. I actually believe everyone is already doing the best they can every single day because they are. I write here, sometimes in too serious of a tone I suppose, not to be right or call others wrong but to say things for myself and others to think about.

    We must all think for ourselves.

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