Label | noun | a classifying phrase or name applied to a person
Label | verb | to assign to a category, especially inaccurately or restrictively
My pastor Kelly describes Lent as "40 days of journeying through the wilderness, in which people often give up things and take up practices to develop clarity of heart, and to resist the powers in our lives that separate us from God." Since I believe that we are (every single one of us) children of God, it is my view that within each one of us shines a tiny light of God's spirit. So if there are "powers in our lives that separate us from God", those same powers separate us from one another. Our separation from one another is threatening to do us in on this planet we all call home. One way that we create separation is through our habit of labeling others. Labeling is the practice of quickly categorizing another person or group into a box of our own making, a box nailed together by our often limited understanding. Labeling others is the easy way out. I know, because I do it all the time. And my guess is, you do too.
It is important to note that this it isn't just a bad habit we recently picked up. It's in our DNA, and was a part of our early survival strategy as a species, when different people groups were competing for land and resources. Survival required quickly differentiating between us and them. However, the world we live in today depends on cooperation over competition. And the labels we so freely slap on others makes that cooperation, and thus our survival, ever more precarious.
The categories, names and classifying phrases we apply to others create hairline cracks in our relationships with those we care about but who think and believe differently than we do. The categories, names and classifying phrases that we apply to others create deep chasms between whole groups of people, leading to fear and a struggle for power. Labels get us into trouble, and keep us swimming in our end of the pool, safely out of splashing range of "those" people who might rain on our political, religious, socio-economic, cultural, and world-view parade.
We label others.
Others label us.
Conservative Progressive Rightwing Liberal Christian Non-Christian Evangelical Muslim Fundamentalist Jewish Catholic Atheist Religious Secular Sinner Agnostic Buddhist White Collar Blue Collar Working Class Upper Class Poor Middle Class Heterosexual Homosexual Queer Trans Lesbian Gay Straight Normal Abnormal Homeless Educated Ignorant Academic Elite Uneducated Fat Thin Old Young Immigrant Illegal Undocumented Guest Worker Patriot Protestor American Hero Coward Traitor Deplorable Feminist Black White Native-American Hispanic Indian Latino Asian Disabled Able-Bodied Mentally Ill Pro-Life Pro-Choice Redneck Right Wrong Good Bad Real Fake Friend Enemy
We are already partway through Lent, and I haven't given up anything, or taken up any new practices. Until today. For the next 31 days I am going to give up labels, and take up the practice of calling others by their name, not their label.
At least I'm going to try. I don't know what the outcome will be or what change it might make, but I do know that labels separate us. They get in the way of connecting in a real way with real people. People who, without the label, are probably a whole lot like us.
Because the label never tells the whole story.
Behind the label lies the person.
Hi. My name is Molly. What's yours?