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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Labels

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What are we? On so many blogs, boards, and in real life we are asked to define ourselves. As a culture we've developed language to make this process as simple as possible. To discuss ourselves without saying much. If I was to say I am a secular, homeschooling, artist, freelancer, heterosexual, liberal - these serve as words to align those I speak with as to where they fall on the spectrum of identifying with me. I sort of don't buy it all.

I look at these labels as a sort of re-creation of clans or feudalism. A way to identify the enemies and make a group conform to expectations, with the strongest presences of the group being the ones who set the definition of a particular identity. Think of some of the strongest examples of identity groups. Fundamental religious groups that have a very identifiable set of rules to live by, dress, speak, gender-roles, even go so far as to signing statements of faith to agree to abide by these rules. It is easy for a person to get so caught up into following these rules to the letter that their identity is totally engineered by a list. A list of rules someone else came up with. Not to pick on just religious folks though, we all fall victim of this. The word liberal brings the same potential of misconception or identity traps as the word conservative.

I don't believe that this is all shady conspiracy. It evolved to make things easier for people to make alliances, to understand one another, to focus our own thoughts around the broadness that is life. But I do believe it is flawed. Misidentifying ourselves and others seems to be the root of most arguments, misunderstandings, assumptions. It is the root of identity crisis, feelings of personal failure, even over inflated ego.

This is the first time I have thought about this on this level for awhile. It used to just bug me how people identified themselves through their career. You know the second question you ask a stranger? "So what do you DO?" Not meaning, what do you enjoy, what drives you, makes you happy. But what do you make money doing. Which would be fine if we all made income through the things that we love. The things that should be defining our existence to each other. Now I guess it all bugs me. All the labeling. I think it makes it harder to actually see one another.

So who are we? We are silly people. We look at life as something to be enjoyed. I am never totally right and I am often wrong entirely, and that is a thought that doesn't unsettle me in the least. I think living in a way that brings as little harm to ourselves and others should be top priority. And we should strive to leave a room in at least a little better condition than when we came in. I don't know how to say that with a label.

3 comments:

eclecticallyyours said...

Hmmm. I need to think about this some more. I agree wholeheartedly about those labels. I am tired of them. Yet, I try to define myself to others' all the time. WHO I am. WHAT I am. I am many things. I am not everything I am on a blog. Or in person. I don't fit a "type". We shouldn't. You are right. I think we do this in order to "belong" to have a "group" of like minded people. Why do we need a group of like minded people? So they can tell us WE are okay. That what we think/do is what THEY think/do. Therefore we are "okay". Not alone. Not outside. We need labels to make us feel safe? Hows that? And yet...and yet...I think labels are only bad in that we make them to keep others out. Can't we label with openmindedness? "This is what I am? And what are you? I embrace your label..." KWIM? Too often close mindedness comes with labels. I don't think it has to.
Well, wow. I'm a post unto myself tonight. Sorry...but you made me think. A good thing.

Mommylion said...

I think we do need a group of like minded individuals. But I think that people are generally more like minded across the board than the labels would have us believe. I use labels too. It is innate in our language and culture. But to alter this "habit" would require a massive change in group think and let's face it, that isn't going to happen. But it is still something that baffles me from time to time.

How you said, "I think labels are only bad in that we make them to keep others out." That is exactly it. People are so naturally threatened by the differences in each other it seems. Why?

Maria said...

I still think we are threatened by others' differences because it means we might be "off" or wrong in our own thinking if we aren't doing what someone else does. Even blogging sometimes I feel that I am trying to establish "who" I am in reference to others. It's a way of defining ourselves but also a way of making sure we are "okay" to others but ultimately to ourselves. We have a need to make sure what we are doing is "right". Heaven forbid we'd be out of the status quo. And that goes for so called or self title "rebels" they still have a need to defend and define themselves. Fascinating isn't it? But I agree wholeheartedly, we need to move away from that idea in the sense of shutting out others.