Labels are for Cans and Clothes, Not People
Soren Kierkegaard stated, “When you label me, you negate me.” I love this statement. We humans sure to tend to want to label people. We want to categorize people. It seems that we love to group people into boxes.
The problem with labeling people is that we are wrong about them the majority of the time. A label is so restrictive and can be very destructive. Labeling someone causes us to stop seeing them as an individual because it lumps them in with others of the same label. It puts people into a box that limits them to that label.
Often times, once someone is labeled something it’s hard to overcome that label. For example, a convicted felon has a hard time overcoming that label. A drug addict has a hard time overcoming the label of addict. The label list is endless.
A good friend of mine once gave her testimony at a Sunday night church service. She shared intimate details of struggles and traumas that she had experienced. With each experience, she wrote a label on a sticky note and stuck it to herself. Each label was a descriptive term someone said of her at some point along her journey. Each label ended up defining her in a very destructive way. She wore each label with shame and dishonor. She wasn’t set free until she allowed Jesus to remove the labels. He had to show her that the labels were lies.
Labels are dangerous. Labels don’t tell the whole story. Labels limit the way we see others. Labels will cause us to not see the totality of a person.
Once you label me, you negate me.
To negate someone is to make them ineffective or to nullify them. To negate someone is to lose sight of that person. To label them is to see the label and miss the person.
God has created each of us to be a unique person, an individual; to be individually unique. When we label someone, we cause them to lose their uniqueness. We now identify them as a member of a group. We tend to think that everyone wearing a particular label all think alike.
Reasons We Label
I believe there are a lot of different reasons we label people. Here are three reasons why I believe that we label others. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list by any means.
1. We tend to be judgmental.
To label someone is really to make a judgement about someone. To judge something simply means to make a decision about something. A judgment is a decision.
When we label someone we are judging them. We are making a decision about them and our label of them is our decision of them. We use labels to either put people down, thus making ourselves feel better about ourselves. Or, we use labels to enthrone someone elevating them to a status that we feel we cannot obtain.
Why can’t we just see people as people? Yes, we certainly all have different levels of talent and skill, but we are all created as human beings on an equal playing field . . . no one greater, no one lessor.
Why can’t we stop focusing on other people’s sin realizing that we have our own to deal with?
2. It’s easier to label someone than to get to know them.
To really get to know someone takes time, compassion and interest. Labeling someone is much easier to do because it really requires no forethought. You just label them and move on. It requires no effort on our part to label someone, but it requires great effort to really get to know someone.
To really get to know someone you must first really listen to them and have empathy for their story. Labeling someone doesn’t require you to know anything about a person. You simply make a decision about them and label them.
This is why our labels are often so wrong. We, almost always, do not know their full story. If people had really gotten to know my friend mentioned above, the labels they put on her would not have been given. They would have understood her story and thus better understood her actions.
3. Labeling others keeps us from shielded from others.
It’s so much easier to stay isolated from other’s pains. Often times we don’t realize the pain of another human being until we have walked in that pain ourselves. To label someone simply isolates us from their pain. Somehow it makes us feel that their pain is their fault. They deserved that label. They made the wrong choice. They made the mistake. Let them suffer their pain.
But once you understand someone’s story, you can feel their pain. To feel their pain means that you cannot isolate yourself from them. To feel someone’s pain means that you have put yourself into their story.
Most of the time we don’t want to feel other’s pain. We tend to think that we have too much stuff going on in our own lives. To feel someone else’s pain means that we have to put aside our own issues for a time. It’s easier to focus on ourselves, sometimes even to the point of feeling self-pity, than to focus on someone else.
It’s much easier to judge them, blame them, condemn them, and label them. The label acts as a shield, a barrier to their pain. If I don’t feel their pain then I find it much easier to judge them. When I feel someone’s pain, I am more apt to be compassionate than judgmental.
The older I get the more I hate labels. Growing up I would have labeled myself, and been labeled by others, a conservative, fundamental. Charismatic, evangelical, Republican Christian. These days I am just simply a follower of Jesus. I have changed a lot in a many areas. Some of my beliefs are still the same, many are not.
The labels I used as a young man defined me. Not only did they define me but they limited me. Through the years I have allowed the labels others have put on me to define me and limit me.
They also limited me to the way that I see others. My labels acted as a filter by which I saw those around me.
My labels will not define me. Other people’s labels will not define me.
And, I will not use labels to define others.
The only label that I want on my life is the one that says, “loved by God.” That’s the only label I want to put on others.
Labels are to be used on inanimate objects, never people!
What about you? Have people labeled you? Have you, or do you, label others?