Identity Labels

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I really hate labels. I think the reason for this is because society as a whole wants to label every single one of us. It doesn’t matter if we are straight, gay, trans, bi, or gender fluid. There’s a label for that. I kind of equate it to the saying that “yep, there’s an app for that”, only it isn’t an app, it’s a label. When we are students, we are labeled by what we achieve. There’s the nerds, the jocks, and the nobody’s. I really hate that usage of the language because school is hard enough without the identifiers. I’ve heard the arguments on both sides that the labels are necessary in order to categorize groups of people for studies and areas of expertise and while I understand that we all have skills that vary from each person to each person, that doesn’t mean that society as a whole, needs to be labeled.

There’s a difference in labeling occupations as opposed to what people are. I think most of us would agree with that assessment. But when it comes to what a person is, how do you define it with labels? If I say that I’m a humanitarian, then what does that really mean? Does that mean I do volunteer work? Does it mean that I donate or does it mean that I do both? Is there a concrete way to tell a difference and in truth, what does it matter what my label says about me? I really detest how society labels the LGTQB community because they are people. Their sexuality doesn’t define them. It’s only a mere component of who they are. This is much like people who are labeled with mental illness. When someone says to me that they are bipolar, I don’t equate that to being bipolar. I equate that to a disease a person has rather than a make up of who they are as an individual.

If I say that I’m a Christian, what does that mean? Does that automatically mean that I’m hypocritical in society? Some would argue yes. They lump all Christians in one category even though not all Christians believe the same as their fellow Christians. When I hear someone is a Muslim, to me, that represents the type of faith they follow. It doesn’t mean that they are a terrorist. It doesn’t mean that they hate all Christians, Americans, or anyone else for that matter. Our religions don’t define us. Our actions define us more than anything or anyone else. Yes, there are some that are a part of society that see things one way. That doesn’t mean that everyone should fall in that same label. We are a part of society that is a piece of the puzzle. In truth, it doesn’t matter what type of religion you are a part of or if you are an atheist, labels are just a minor part of what and who we are.

I have often heard the phrase of being a latch key kid. This is how a lot of kids who had to look after themselves growing up have been labeled. I never really thought about the label. I just did things. To me, there was no real way of defining that period in my life. My parents both worked during the day and I was old enough to look after myself for a few hours each day. That was during a different time and era but the point is that what I had to do during that time in my life received a label.

If society continues to label people for what they believe a person to be, then how can we break the cycle of seeing ourselves one way? I have many friends in the LGBTQ community. Not a single one of them do I think as being a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer. I see them as human beings who happen to be labeled as one of the above. That doesn’t define the whole person. Who they love is no one’s business. It’s no one’s business what goes on in their bedroom or out of it. Love is love. If they share their life with someone else, then society doesn’t need to label it. Okay, some of you will argue and say that as a Christian, I should look at things from the Biblical standpoint. My argument with that is that I have no right to judge anyone. Look, if a kid is hanging with a crowd that gets into trouble all the time, that kid can get labeled as a “thug” or any number of labels. That doesn’t mean that the kid really is what society says. It just means that it’s the label based off the perception of the people that kid is with. There’s enough people in this world who choose to label what we all are. Most of the time, they have no conception of what a person is really dealing with internally.

One of my closest friends has a physical disability. Society labels him as disabled but he doesn’t see himself this way. Yes, he has to go about things a little differently than everyone else but he doesn’t let the disabilities that he has, keep him from living a full and productive life. He sees himself as being fully capable. Unfortunately, he’s been discriminated against his entire life because people look at his hand and treat him as if he can’t do things. They label him based off their observations. Anyone who knows him knows that he detests this mindset. There’s a lot to be said for the way we perceive ourselves as well as others.

Can you imagine going through life, living through the eyes of only one label? I can’t. In fact, if someone said to me that I had to be one thing in life only, I would label myself as human. That’s probably the closest label that can define the entire package that I can come up with. Every single one of us is a book waiting to be written. We all have different chapters that are a part of our lives. We are all a story. What we are is not defined in labels. It’s defined throughout our lives and legacies. There’s no label that can accurately describe everything we are. There’s only actions and attitudes.

So how do we stop labeling each other? I want you to think about when you label someone what it says about you. Are you the type of person that has to have a label and description for everything and everyone? If so, then why? It might help to define a skillset but no one is ever truly what they are labeled. We aren’t just one thing. We are a compilation of things. There is no one identifier that can describe a whole person.

I talk with my friends a lot. They help me to see different viewpoints and different ideologies. I’m very grateful for them because they help me to make sense out of the labels we sling at one another. Sometimes, I catch myself labeling someone and then I have to pull back and ask myself some tough questions. It’s really easy to judge someone based off a thirty second impression. Usually though, those impressions are never really correct. See, if we lived our life without getting to know those who we never would have previously, then we are missing out. There’s a lot to be learned from each other. I’m open to learning. It’s learning to change behavior that can be challenging.

If you find yourself labeling someone, I really hope that you take a look at the entire person. Someone could be a very gifted athlete but a really arrogant individual. They could also be construed as arrogant but have closed themselves off to the world. If we label them before we know them, then we aren’t being open to the possibility of growth within our selves. We are all full of labels. What we are in a moment shouldn’t define who we are but rather the marks we leave behind. If you have labeled folks, take a step back and get to know them. Maybe you were right about them. Maybe you were wrong. You’ll never know unless you are open to the opportunity.

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