27 May, 2010

The Power of Labeling

"Once you label me you negate me."

Soren Kierkegaard

How often do we label ourselves?  “I am…a teacher, a lawyer, a mom, a???”

We label ourselves often hopefully with the understanding that we define ourselves over allowing whatever label we choose to do the defining.  Sometimes it is easier to let the label define us though  - we become victims of the label and the way society or others define it.  We let that word or label provide the outline of who we are – taking the time to color within the lines.

What aspects of ourselves do we limit, deny, or smother when we label ourselves?

Labeling doesn’t hold much attraction for me.  I like descriptors and have labeled a little, but the lines that define me are often more nuanced than structured.  I am currently content with the idea that “I am” and letting the concept flow through me liberally!

  This was often how I saw myself in the past, but over the last year finding that idea and making my way back to it have been challenging. 

One of my challenges was the struggle of others labeling me – and my learning to let it be and accepting that this is being done over fighting against it in every way possible.  I know that I am not going to do anything to change the minds of others.  I know that this fight is banging my head against a fortified iron wall that is not going to budge.  I know that the person suffering the most in this battle is...me

And the person with the lessons to learn… me

It is the most frustrating experience and the impact is not isolated.

It is the most negating experience in that it denies a person (me in this case) self expression.  The labeling of others denies the person a voice, a presence, even legitimacy.

And it happens all the time. 

How often do we walk down the streets, sit in buses or on airplanes, eat in restaurants and label others in our midst?

How often do we deny others a voice because of the label we have given them?

Despite the frustrations of this experience, it is, for me, a chance for me to remember that I define myself.  That the choices on how I live and approach life, and work through adversity are mine.  The labeling or denial of me is not about me as much as it is about those engaged in the activity. 

I further that in accepting that their label is irrelevant – and that I will continue to look inward, to live in integrity, and to model the behavior that reflects the person that I am and the way I believe people are to be treated. 

It isn’t easy. 

I have been labeled throughout my life in different ways due to a disability, due to my travels, due to the way I live my life, but this experience is different.  This experience is powerful as is the lesson being learned.  This experience hits closer to home and my heart. 

Yet, here I am.

I AM!!

I am exactly where I am supposed to be learning the lessons I need to learn. 

I am now more aware of labels and their power.

And I have learned that there is a lot we miss when we label others.  We not only negate them, but we miss out on the gifts they have to share and those we have to share with them. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, when we label another and negate them, we negate ourselves… 



Sara said...

I really liked this post and I think you brought up some excellent points.

While I'm not condoning it, labeling is basically a convenience. It seems to allow our mind to place something or understand it. Unfortunately, labeling can also be negative.

What I love is when I think I've got the right "label" for someone and then they teach me that the label I saw doesn't fit at all.

I met this man during the torch relay for the Atlanta Olympics. He's a quadriplegic and was nominated to carry the torch in my town.

He's confined to a wheelchair and has many limitations about what he can do physically. I expected him to be difficult, maybe even grouchy. He proved me totally wrong and I loved him for it.

He was one of the happiest people I've ever met. He taught me that labeling can prevent you from seeing the real person; the person beyond the wheelchair.

It was a good life lesson about labeling:~)

Mama Llama said...

We will talk about this tomorrow over lunch! :) I can't wait for yet another Exceptional date!

Be well, TE.

Wilma Ham said...

I agree with Sara, labeling has come forth out of convenience so we do not have to think ourselves. I have been involved in recruitment as a psychologist and the managers just wanted a round peg fitting a round hole AND they did not dare to use their own discernment and think for themselves. No need to say I quit AND that it of course never works. If we do not dare to pay attention who is in front of us, if we do not dare to make up our own mind about people, why are we connecting with them in the first place? What are we doing with our lives. I AM is indeed the best way to be and to approach people TE and taking time to discover who is in front of you. xox Wilma

Martian said...

Excellent thoughts, Exception. I'm always impressed when I stop by your blog.

You're right, of course. Buddhists would say that giving a label or name to something lessens it in our minds, because it is restrictive, because it's too easy to say "that's a tree, and so I understand it." But in reality, that organism is in many ways far beyond science's understanding.

I've have in the past and still do categorize and label people in my mind. It's a daily struggle not to do so. It seems like it usually happens in combination with negative thoughts, like "geesh old lady, can't you drive a little faster?!" Then I hear my thought and remember that my own mother is old, and I think of people cursing her as she drives and I feel badly for her -- and sorry that I just inwardly thought practically the same thing, against someone who is probably someone else's mom. And I back off, slow down, take a breath, and honor her by not being that labeling asshole... at least for a while.

Good for you!

Davina said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this post. I had to laugh because a split second before I read "...taking the time to color within the lines," I was thinking EXACTLY that thought. It kind of freaked me out :-)

By labelling ourselves we put ourselves into a box and then we try to stay there. Why, I don't know. Obsessed perhaps? Focused on doing IT right... whatever IT may be. At the end of the day, I think we mean well, but as you say, we negate ourselves with these labels.

At any rate, this was absolutely brilliant writing and food for thought.

The Exception said...

This is a general response. Thank you all for your comments. This was a post that I needed to write and one I probably could only have written in the moment!

Thank you for all of your wordds and thoughts. Thank you - you all mean more than I could say.