Humans are addicted to labels. In some ways, this is a good thing. It’s a shortcut. It’s a way of lowering the cognitive difficulty of a concept.
If you were alive 50,000 years ago, your labels would pretty much be ‘edible’, ‘not-edible’, ‘dangerous’, ‘not-dangerous’. And that’s fine. You see an animal moving through the forest and you apply one or two of those labels to it. When time is a major factor, labels like this help.
But they can also be very harmful. We have taken these labels to the extreme and apply them without thinking about them. When the label choices were ‘mate’, ‘enemy’, ‘friend’, ‘family’… we didn’t have to think much about it.
But now we have millions of labels: Christian, Muslim, atheist, humanist, scientist, politician, homosexual, heterosexual, bum, jerk, slob, conceited, etc. etc. etc.
At this point, I almost think that it’s harder to apply all the appropriate labels than just think about the person and who they are.
Which brings me to my main point.
We are each a unique human being with years/decades of complex experiences, emotions, and thoughts. That may be a good thing, but it’s also sad. I saw an amazing sunrise this morning. And I’m the only person in the world to have seen it from my perspective. I’m a little bit changed because of that sunrise, I’m not who I was last night.
Different people have had different experiences that have led them to call themselves atheists or Christians or humanists or whatever. But that label is still a shorthand and it doesn’t tell one anything about the person themselves.
And that’s the real problem with these labels. They are used differently by different people. Everyone has different experiences with these labels and what they think.
If I hear someone label themselves as “Republican”, my first thought tends to be “great another brainwashed idiot who has no idea what’s going on in the real world”. Another person might think, “a conservative patriot thinking of America the way it should be”. And dozens more things. Of course, the reality could be totally different from all of these things. They may just be an advocate of a republic form of government.
That’s the thing with labels. They are so often taken to mean what we think instead of what the person labeling themselves means.
When used in one group, a label may be positive, but when used by another group it may be negative. Either way, people are thinking about the label, not the person(s) that they are labeling.
Labels are a convenient excuse to avoid thinking. I’m totally guilty of this myself. Everyone is.
I’m going to make more of an effort to avoid labels and think about the person, instead of their labels.