As humans, we’ve created labels for everything.
We need to categorize and define every unknown thing we come across, in an attempt to understand what it is in relation to everything else we know. Sometimes labels are created out of necessity, so it’s easier to communicate with others as to what we’re referring to. Labels could also be created out of pride to boost our ego, worth, and value in other people’s eyes. These labels can be clear or absolutely confusing. And that’s the thing… A label can be anything—a name, descriptor, category, concept, experience, etc. The possibilities of what labels are and how they can be used are endless.
Leaving something unlabeled seems incomprehensible. Your mind needs to know what that thing is! If you don’t label it, someone else will. Once it’s labeled, you automatically pile on all these assumptions on it based on your experience or knowledge of previous things labeled the same. It becomes hard to unravel all those automatic assumptions afterward as your mind now considers those as “facts”. For those “facts” to change, it has to be challenged before your mind is willing to see another perspective.
Have you considered how many labels you have that have formed your identity?
Every single noun and adjective used to describe you comes with predetermined labels and assumptions, whether you like it or not. These could’ve been given to you or you’ve adopted them yourselves. Your full given name, nickname, gender, age, height, sexual preference, skin color, nationality, ethnicity, job title, role in the family, relationship status, personality type, likes/dislikes, experiences, and so on all become… who you are.
You can cut up a piece of pie in so many ways—any size, various shapes, directions, or even not at all. It all depends on who holds the knife. The situation the knife holder is in determines his or her cutting choices, and then who and how the pie is served to another. Once the label is defined, then our minds compare: Is your piece bigger than mine? Does yours have more filling? Does yours have that thing on it, too? Whose looks better? Hmm… Maybe I want or should’ve gotten your piece instead.
These labels can either unite or divide us.
The result depends on the intention and emotional charge we power it with. We could identify with others with the same or similar label. It brings us closer faster and increases our understanding of each other rapidly. Complete strangers can become best buds in moments just with the right labels to bring them together. People are willing to (and they truly want to) unite under a label (and under whatever label that they can easily identify with).
But those same labels can divide us so quickly, too.
Antagonism, judgment, and avoidance can happen in an instant once your mind or society decides that the label given now has a negative connotation to it. Then fear and the negative side of human nature surface quickly. It’s as if someone just flipped a switch, and it’s all a completely different story now. Our lizard brain jumps into fight or flight mode. Things can go down a really, really ugly destructive path with the right triggers setting off perfectly-placed fuses.
But we have evolved beyond just using our lizard brains.
We can overcome our lizard brain’s auto-response. You always have a choice with your actions. We don’t need to let that label divide us. Let's not let those triggers push our buttons and set us down consequences we cannot undo.
We always have the choice to make another decision.
It doesn't matter whether it's commonly accepted or not. Sometimes it just takes that one person to make a better decision, a harder choice, and take a different path, so others can see another possibility and follow suit.
This division has been hurting us for quite some time now, and it seems to snowball under uncertainty and fear. Instead of having all the negative assumptions and limited perspectives driving us apart, we need more understanding, compassion, and the willingness to take a step back. Let's look at the bigger picture to find another solution or frame of mind.
If the differentiating labels are all you see and notice, the more you’re choosing to separate yourself from the person in front of you. Stop seeing the differences negatively, and notice the similarities instead. Or alternatively, choose to see how you can learn from the differences. Leveraging our differences make us stronger as a whole.
Strip away each differentiating label you place on someone else. Choose ones that bring you closer. Find ones that give you compassion for their untold stories. Embrace ones that allow you to share your love and kindness, instead of perpetuating any hate.
Please take notice of whatever labels you’re placing on the people around you, the labels you’re placing on the situations happening around you and in the world, and the labels you’re placing on yourself which divides you further from others.
At the end of the day, we’re all just people going through these human experiences trying to survive and (ideally) thrive, and trying to make the most of life until our last breath.
We all just want to be seen, understood, accepted, respected, and loved. So let’s find the labels that unite and connect us positively and peacefully instead.
Revised on April 22 2022 / Repost from Medium
Cover photo from Unsplash
June 2, 2020