I’ve heard labels thrown around liberally in society.
Criminal, Terrorist, Extremist, Leftist, Conservative, Hippie, Racist. The list goes on and on.
Yet I wonder, what’s the impact of all of these labels?
Sometimes labeling can be good, for interpersonal interactions. In poker, it’s helpful to attach labels to the way a person plays. Maybe someone’s a “shark”, since they pretend to be really bad at the game, but instead lure you into elaborate traps. Labeling can be helpful when it’s made after gathering information from significant interaction with another person. It can help to predict what the other person might like or enjoy, or to guide further interactions.
Yet on the whole, labeling is detrimental and destructive. Often, we accept labels attached to certain things and suffer the consequences without realizing it.
When we call others “leftists” or “extremists”, we’re damaging our own understanding of the other person. Often I’ve noticed labeling in the bad sense is done very quickly and is usually emotionally-charged.
Labeling someone as a criminal robs the person of their humanity. We demonize the other person, we reject them fully. We implicitly tell the other person that they don’t deserve to be a person.
When we refrain from labeling and instead seek to learn about the other person and their story, we invite compassion and love for the other person. We make a connection and feel close to the other person. Even if it is a person who’s committed a crime, we’re able to asses the actions taken and what punishment might be fair. We seek to encourage actions that might reform the person, and accept that the person is fully capable of being a positive, contributing member of society. When we label the person as a criminal though, we rob them of any reformation.
It’s enlightening to reflect on the labels we use in our life.
What labels have you used before? What steps can you take to learn about the other person instead of using a label?