Labelling. We’re all guilty of it. Whether we label ourselves or others, it’s something we’re all good at. Black or white? Boy or girl? Rich or Poor? Smart or stupid? Normal or abnormal? It’s almost as if we can’t control to categorically label people into some sort of dichotomy.
In my opinion, categorizing people is just an evolutionary reaction that has gone a little too far. Labelling is a tool we use to comprehend the complexity that is humans and everything we perceive. However, labelling isn’t something that is biologically inherent, it is learned and adaptive. It is based on social, political and economic constructs that we as humans have created to understand and organize the world around us.
In terms of evolution, categorical labelling is probably a good thing. It is probably is the reason why we have made it to 2017 and continue to survive. It allows us to group things into “danger” or “safe” for example. We are able to scope out attributes and indicators of situations to know if we should approach them or if we should just stay away. It basically helps with our intuition.
However, it’s not just evolution that creates labelling, it’s also life experiences. Labelling is based on the characteristics we use to pass judgements. Judgements are like a reflex that we can’t help but pass. Some of us are better than others, but we all do it. Judgements can be positive, but are more often negative because it’s much easier to see and complain about what we don’t like, than to appreciate what we do like. This in itself has become one of the deepest root causes to many of our problems as a global society.
Labels hold a lot of meaning, thus are quite dangerous. Since they are related to judgements, they can create stereotypes, hearsay, bias, fears, stigma, and the inability to separate a person from the label itself. Labelling goes awry as it begins to lump diverse groups of people together and discard all sense of individual identity. This is detrimental to our society. By ignoring the context of situations and blindly making judgements on groups of people or even just an individual, is discrediting them of their life journey. This is the beginning of discrimination and “hate culture” because we slowly begin to dehumanize people to nothing more than just a label.
Terrorist. Nerd. Slut. Retarded. Genius. Activist. Comedian. Fat. Ugly. Prude. Loner. Criminal. Druggie. And the list goes on.
The bias that is created changes one’s reactions to people, which usually isn’t always a good thing. Labels create expectations that are based on previous experiences, or hearsay that either are high or low. We fail to look at the whole picture which in return causes harm to individuals attached to specific labels. This creates mental health stress as people feel the pressure of having to live up to something, feeling trapped or not good enough. It is very common for people to begin to internalize their labels as well. Words hold power, and we seem to forget that time and time again.
Not only does labelling say things about the people being labelled, but a lot about the person doing the labelling too. Our words and tone of voice all come together as an indication of how we perceive others and see the world as well. People’s self image is strongly tied to the words and labels they use.
What we need to start realizing that we are not our labels so we need to stop wearing them. We are more than what people label us. We can be more than one thing. We don’t belong in a box. People are complex and to label individuals or groups of people is simplifying something so diverse and beautiful. Labelling is obviously essential in life as it’s a useful tool we use to catalogue information, experiences, and even a great way to introduce yourself to someone. But we need to always remember is that labels are just labels. From topics of race, gender, socioeconomic status, mental health, religion, physical health and everything in between would all have less issues of stigma and discrimination if we all gained more perspective on our actions and our words. Humans are not items in a supermarket that need to be slapped with labels, so let’s allow ourselves and others to be free to be who we truly are.
*Disclaimer: Featured image is not mine. Retrieved here.