This post has a DISCLAIMER! I might say some things that are offensive to highly sensitive eyes. I mean, I might not, but I'm warning you now in case you decide that you want to refrain from reading this particular post. I also don't respond to negative opinions...so go a head and voice them, freedom of speech and all, but understand that you won't get a rise out of me.
As most of you know, I decided to go back to Utah State University to finish the degree that I started a long time ago. As I drive to and from campus, it gives me a lot of time to think, which usually doesn't amount to anything. This past week however, I've been thinking a lot about something in particular, and have been wondering why as a society, we do this. I was waiting for a class to start (I had 4 hours), and decided to jot some things down. I also write in a notebook, not just on this blog...I know, your minds have all been blown!
I've been thinking this past week about labels. No, I'm not talking about the ones that they place on your favorite cheese (look a food reference). I'm talking about the social and cultural labels that we place on the people around us. Why do we do it? At what point do we, as individuals, start placing these metaphoric stickers on others? Does it happen when we first come out of our mothers and the doctor confirms that we are either male or female? Is that our first label? Yes, I identify as a man, but what if I didn't? It's like my chromosomes slapped this label on me when giving me a penis before birth that made everyone around me decide that I was a boy. I'm happy being a boy. I feel like I'm a boy. I am a boy. But, what if I didn't? We live in a world where people are finally learning to accept who they are. They are trying to be comfortable with their bodies. When we tell them that they are something, when they clearly feel that they aren't, are we damaging them? I have a penis, but does that really make me male, or is it the fact that I feel like I'm male that makes me one? I understand, you can pull out your dictionaries and other woohaas and tell me what this or that scientist has said, but if I didn't feel like I was a male, there is no science, and nothing slithering around in my pants that could convince me otherwise.
I've been reading some articles on the damaging effects that labeling has on people. Labeling sets people up for failure. It makes people feel bad about themselves. Labeling helps us create an opinion (often wrong), about someone. We are sitting on the bus and and overweight individual sits next to us. We instantly label that person as being "fat". We tell ourselves that if they could only stop eating so much they wouldn't look that way. We feel disgusted for them. Yes, this person could be overweight because they eat a lot, but they could be overweight for a lot of other reasons. We instantly judged them without even knowing who they are. We only see them for the shame that we forced onto them. Our labels might never reach the outside of our minds, but imagine how many people have called this person fat. How many people in that day alone, decided that he/she needed to know the label that they were thinking?
We call men gay when they like other men. We call women lesbians when they like other women. God forbid they like both because now they're just confused. Women are feminists for standing up for themselves. Did you know that in the 1800's women were treated like property? When a poor person in England wanted to get rid of his wife, he'd pay a fee and take her to the stockyard and sell her just like cattle. I think when a woman stands up and wants equal whatever, she deserves to be heard. We call people ugly because they don't fit the modelistic mold that we have in our society. We tell them that if they'd lose just a few more pounds they'd find happiness. Shouldn't happiness come from within? Shouldn't we be seeing the beauty in everyone?
Dumb, stupid, uneducated, worthless, childish, illegal, wet, dirty, slutty, ignorant, bigot, loser, liar, thief, cheat, homeless, trashy, unlovable, whore. We tell women that if they'd dress better they won't get raped. We demand that our all of students excel at the same time and when they don't there is obviously something wrong with them. We can't teach a fish to climb a tree. We can't teach an ape to breathe underwater.
I think what it comes down to is one simple truth, we have all been labeled ourselves. We have all looked into the mirror and thought about all of the insecurities that we have. We have all been slapped with a sticker that said something that wasn't true. We have all heard the unloving remarks that others can't just keep inside their faces. We have all felt ugly, stupid, and undeserving. We grow up in a world that forgets to remind us of our strengths. We can only see the negatives about ourselves and others because that's all the world teaches us to do.
This past week has been a time of great reflection for me. I don't want my children to grow up in a world dominated by all of these harmful labels. Unfortunately, there is nothing that I can do on a public level. I'm not gregarious enough to stand outside with a giant sign and preach that label-free is the way to be. But, I can teach my children at home to love everyone for who they are. I can teach them to see the good in all people, despite the differences that they might have with that person. I might not be able to change the world, but for the three little ones that I have under my wing, I can teach them tolerance. I can teach them love. I can teach them respect. I can help them to have loving opinions instead of the negative ones being forced into their heads.
If you find a need to label someone, then label them with grace. If you have already labeled someone in a negative way, change it. There are always ways to remove stickers. The adhesive is only permanent if we refuse to try and remove it. If I have ever labeled you ignorantly, I am sorry. It is my new goal to change the way that I see people. It is my goal to treat everyone with the beauty that the rest of the world denies them. Will you join me?