I’m beginning to understand the destructive nature of labeling. This coming from a woman who proudly proclaims her ownership and use of a label maker!
My journey with labels began about two years ago when Mark was reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. In this book Tolle suggests that we practice the art of removing labels by taking a walk through nature and only observing without applying names to each “being” that surrounds us. For example do not look at the tree and say “What a beautiful oak tree” or “That saguaro is magnificent”.
When Mark would read me these exercises I would literally roll my eyes and scoff at the nonsense coming out of his mouth. Afterall, it IS an oak tree and it IS a saguaro. How else would you define it? And why is not defining it even useful? Complete and absolute bullshit!
Two years later and I finally care enough to get it! Am I a master of not defining and not labeling? By no means. But I am mastering the understanding of the significance of dropping labels.
As Tolle beautifully and accurately stated:
“When you don’t cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
I believe Tolle had us begin with dropping the labels of nature as a practice for the much more difficult undertaking of dropping labels applied to our fellow man. To drop labels in nature means to meander peacefully through the forest or desert and merely feel your surroundings. Breathe them in, be aware of them, realize their significance and beauty, acknowledge them as a part of this universe just as you are simply part of this universe, hear their story, but do not confine them to labels. To label limits your scope of their magnificence.
This can be said of the people we are surrounded by too. Let me just give you a few examples of what labeling does.
A few years ago it was quite popular to get emails from people wanting to spread a good laugh. A good intending friend would forward an email from a site called people of walmart. It’s a site geared toward laughing at people’s appearance mishaps. The first time I received one of these emails I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t push through my pity. I’ll admit that I generally (not often anymore) labeled people that shopped at walmart as less than. Less worth. Less than me. But when I see these pictures I don’t want to laugh and honestly I can’t. These are human beings who would be mortified to know they are being publicly humiliated. These are human beings with stories. In this picture I see a new mom who probably doesn’t recognize her shirt has rolled up, exposing her midsection, and who unlike many of us may not have the funds to buy post-baby shirts that fit. That’s nothing to laugh about. So some of us will sit at home applying labels to her, such as fat, gross, white trash or trailer trash or as the commentary on this photo suggested, skank. Maybe if we can remove the judgements and labels we can simply empathize. We can begin to see this woman as something more than a cruel joke.
What does that label stir in you? Be honest. I don’t want to be labeled simply as an atheist because I am so much more than that. If you label me as an atheist you’ve painted an image of me that has very negative reactions. Most people in this country view someone with the label of atheist as someone who is angry, fighting to remove the rights of christians, an oppressor, hellbound, an enemy, lost, delusional, hateful, bitter, disagreeable. Sound about right? Because you’ve painted me in to this corner you can’t see the entirety of me. You lose sight of who I truly am because you’ve lessened me to a silly little label.
I’ll flip that, I have and often continue to do the same to christians and I no longer want to.
When I simply label you as christian I lose sight of who you are. Instead of seeing wonderful, loving parents, contributing members of society, activists, lovers and forgivers I can only see hateful, judgemental, delusional, irritating, close-minded, oppressive, bullying homophobes and manipulators. I’ve narrowed my scope down to one type of person and not left room to see the entire person. I’ve limited them to my views of christianity and that leaves very little room for empathy or friendship.
Developmentally Delayed and adopted:
These are labels I have to use with two of my boys frequently and it kills me because I’ve seen the expressions on people’s faces change. I’ve seen some of the judgements. I’ve heard people label me as anti-american because I’ve adopted internationally (and they said this in front of my Kazakh son) as thoughlabeling him Kazakh gives him less worth than labeling him American! And often when people see my family they ask “are they yours?”
“Yes, they are mine.”
“No, I mean are they yours. Biologically?”
“They are as much ‘mine’ as the ones I gave birth to.”
“So they are adopted? Do they have issues? Were you infertile?”
Ugh! Seriously, the adopted label has to reduce my boys to less than biological as well? See how labels are? Damaging. Limiting.
I’ve seen people shy away from my oldest because he has delays and is not “normal”. What is this “normal” label? Are any of us normal?
I hear people drop the term retarded as though it’s a funny word. It’s a horrible label. It minimizes somebody to a stupid word!
What happens when someone is labeled an addict? We lose sight of their need. We lose sight of their inner workings and the battles they have ahead of them. We are often unable to see past their struggle or addiction when really they are so much more than that. How much further would empathy and partnership take us when someone is in the midst of this struggle? Instead we choose to slap them with a giant ADDICT label as though they are nothing more than the addiction they are enslaved to.
Can you find empathy for the person(s) that you slapped the sinner label on? Or do you leave that for the Jesus? Sinner makes someone believe they are not nor ever will be worthy of God’s love. Sinner can even inhibit growth within relationships here on earth. And every one has a different idea of what it means to be a sinner. Some people are sinners if they drink, gamble, swear, have sex outside of marriage, have sex within their gender, masturbate, watch porn, gossip, judge, seek knowledge, believe in evolution, is a democrat, lies, cheats, murders, steals, watches t.v., drinks caffeine, reads Hunger Games…the list goes on and on and on. Since we are all guilty of one or more of these “sins” why not remove the label sinner all together? What purpose does it serve other than to make one subservient?
Another example occurred recently as a woman stood talking to me knowing very well that I am a stay-at-home mom. She is a new mom and has always been a career woman and is now conflicted between going back to work and staying home more. As she is talking, these words are coming out of her mouth and punching me directly in the gut, “I’ve ultimately decided that I can’t be a stay-at-home mom because I don’t want to become stupid. Pregnancy alone made me say the dumbest things and I’m so much smarter than a woman who just stays home. I think it’s important for those of us that are really wired to be on top in the business world to not lose that edge to the mind-numbing task that takes place each day you stay home and are not enriched by other educated people.” I think my fingers were clenched together in an effort to not draw a fist and punch this woman square in the face just to shut her up. I stood there looking at her and I wanted to pull out my label maker and affix a Certified Bitch label right across her tight, little forehead. But as the oxygen began to refill in my lungs allowing thoughts back in to my stupid, numb, mommy brain I could feel empathy for her. She is not likely a bitch…that would be too simple 🙂 Instead she likely doesn’t know the beauty of my job. She doesn’t realize I once had a very brainy career too and can have that again any time I’d like. I can’t get these years back from my boys so this is a choice I make not because, as she labeled me, I don’t have enough brains or smarts to do something more with my life but because I choose to be here for my boys during this stage in life. And she’s right, sometimes it’s absolutely mind-numbing and sometimes I lose knowledge in my career field but I never become dumb. Dumb is a choice. I saw a woman who simply was ignorant of what it means to be a stay-at-home mom and I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that she was probably unaware of how hurtful the words she spoke were. That doesn’t make her a bitch. She’s just a woman who has worked hard to be where she is and is probably very fearful of losing that. But she’s also fearful of missing out on her child’s life. That’s a conflict that I certainly understand. Again empathy allows the removal of labels. Empathy is a powerful, effective tool.
These labels are everywhere. Each and every single label leaves you with an impression and an idea. But that idea is usually a small, little ink stain in the fabric of that being. Just think of the ones you use daily. How are you limiting your intake of the world and people around you?
Republican, Democrat, Gay, Straight, Adulterer, Preacher, Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Anorexic, Addict, Whore, Slut, Ugly, Pretty, Fat, Skinny, Sexy, Liar, Gold-digger, Rich, Poor, Trash, Hispanic, Mexican, Kazakh, American, Black, Asian, Indian, Illegal, Immigrant, Needy, Pro-lifer, Pro-choicer, Feminist, Atheist, Muslim, Christian, Evangelical, Progressive, Mormon, Jewish, Bitch, Nag, Hag, Bum, Ditz,Stupid, Retarded, Dumb, Smart, Controlling, Abusive, Shallow,Adopted, Trailer, Southside, Egotistical, Backstabber, Selfish, Ignorant, Foolish, Hypocrite, Judgemental, Angry, Hateful, Drama Queen, Blonde,Beefcake, Mentally Ill, Delusional, Smart…
Spend a day just watching how often you apply a label and spend the next day removing those labels. It’s liberating to see the world as nothing more than beautiful. Each and every one of us adding to the layers and layers of brilliance that make up this planet, this galaxy, this universe.