Daily #22: Don’t Label Me, Man!

We all like labels.

They make things more convenient, and they make communication possible.

Take chairs. It may be odd, but chairs are among my favorite things. I like going to furniture stores only because I can sit in different chairs. And this is where labels are helpful.

There are a lot of different kinds of chairs. Rocking chairs, recliners, lawn chairs, deck chairs, folding chairs, folding chairs with pads on them, those terrible interlocking chairs they use at churches and conferences. Glide rockers, armchairs, smoking chairs, director’s chairs, high chairs, those swivel chairs that go up and down with a whoosh. You get the picture.

These names are helpful and allow us to discuss chairs in a useful way, and doing so would be impossible without them. Without labels, we would have to have individual names for not only every kind of chair in existence, but for every actual chair within every single subset. Literally billions and billions of individual names or numbers to remember in order to say anything about chairs.

So, labels are convenient and necessary, but they destroy nuance and individuality.

You can see this in the isms that plague us. Racism is a convenient way not to have to deal with individuals from a group you fear, and sexism allows people to make broad assumptions about how to deal with half of the human population. Convenient, but not helpful.

So, it is important to look at the labels we apply to ourselves, and that we allow others to apply to us. Does your job define you? Your status as a parent or not-parent? Your race, gender, sex or sexuality? What about the labels that are applied to us professionally?

Some of the worst effects of labeling come from the labels placed on our mental state by the professional class of mental labelers.

Psychiatrists, doctors, psychologists, and, yes, counselors.

These are the things I hear almost daily:

I am borderline.

I am OCD.

I am bipolar.

I am a major depressive with anxiety.

I am a drug/sex/shopping/internet/porn/gaming addict. I am an alcoholic.

The scary thing about these, to me, is the totalizing effect they can have on people and, even scarier, how I watch people begin to fall more and more into line with these labels.

Without realizing it they start to alter their behavior to fit the confines of the label. Yes, some people use them as an excuse not to take care of the things they should be taking care of, but more often than not I see it happen without their full understanding that it is happening. Once we buy into a label, confirmation bias starts kicking in.

It can be helpful to ask ourselves where the labels we have been given actually apply and where they do not. I have yet to find any label that actually summarizes a person or a thing or place totally and completely. Where are you selling yourself short?