Certain words need to be defined properly. They need to be carefully sought in the dictionary to avoid misrepresentation, misinterpretation, and mischaracterization. Moreover, a few words are quite misused or overused, mostly in an erroneous manner. Everybody has a damn phone in their hands, but they can’t be bothered to google a word every now and then, to make sure they use it properly! Come on people!
A label is “a slip (as of paper or cloth) inscribed and affixed to something for identification or description” or “written or printed matter accompanying an article to furnish identification or other information”. Another definition I found was “a word or a phrase that is used to describe the characteristics or qualities of people, activities, or things, often in a way that is unfair”. This last definition might be the reason people hate labels so much. The unfairness that comes with labelling someone is irritating and disappointing, I must agree. Then again, if a “label” was accurate, then it would simply be called a description.
So inaccurate descriptions are called labels nowadays. The definition where a label has a negative connotation isn’t from Merriam-Webster dictionary, so we could always dispute the said definition. Moreover, people seem to hate even hearing someone utter the word “label”. I guess no one likes to be labeled, meaning being mischaracterized. We don’t like being put in boxes, we don’t like to be simplified, or better yet, oversimplified.
Yet, that’s how our brains work and that is how nature works; we see something, we analyze it, describe it, and give it a name. How would the world function if we didn’t do that? How would we live? Language wouldn’t even exist if we had refrained from describing things. Every word ever created in every language has one goal; to describe something around us and make sense of our world. That’s it. If you don’t like it, well, frankly, there is nothing you can do about it anyway. That’s a done deal.
Now, we mischaracterize things often because of our own biases, worldview, experiences, and general misunderstanding of the world. Allow me to give you stupid example; I am not sure I can ever see the difference between the colours fuchsia and pink. For real! Or the difference between salmon pink and regular pink. I literally cannot tell. I have to google the damn colors. I always say pink anyway and every now and then, people correct me. This kind of mischaracterization is harmless. However, if I am a doctor and I mischaracterize or misinterpret a scan, someone could die. I know my example isn’t about labels, but it is about mischaracterisation, which is at the basis of labelling.
We don’t have any issue with fair descriptions or if we are put in the right boxes. We lose our cool and our minds when we are grossly mischaracterized and even more if we are put in the wrong box. I have lost my shit and so have you. It is normal. No one likes to be called something they are not. Some mischaracterizations are harmless, others are annoying, and some are dangerous, fatal even. In some parts of the world, being seen as gay can get you killed. If you are labelled as a member of the wrong caste in India, you could die or you could be treated unfairly for the rest of your life. If you are called a protestant or catholic in the wrong part of Northern Ireland, you could very well meet your maker. In my beloved Burundi, being labelled by the wrong ethnic group can either save you or condemn you, depending on the case. This list could go on forever.
I have heard a friend of mine saying they hated labels. I get it. But hating them isn’t going to stop them from coming. It’s like hating the rain; it will still rain whether you like it or not. Besides, some labels may not be so unfair. You cannot be arrogant with people and be surprised when people call you an asshole. You can’t be surprised if people say you are loud, when you are loud. I could go on for days, but you get what I am saying. Some “labels” they paint on your forehead are accurate descriptions. Some people aren’t self aware enough to recognize their flaws. They’d rather blame the outside world for their own flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings. Cowardice when it is established, isn’t a label, it is simply cowardice. Sometimes, an accurate description isn’t a label.
Occasionally, people will get things wrong. You know that and I know that. Everybody has done it and it is human to err. It is so easy to misinterpret a gesture, a word, a tone, an intention because we are imperfect beings and because what we see and hear is always filtered through our own experiences and once again, our existing worldview. We put labels on people, and they put labels on us. It is inevitable. Is it right? Is it wrong? Sometimes, it is right and other times it is wrong.
The only thing we can control is how we interpret things and the labels we put on people. We rarely ask questions to try to understand a given situation. Furthermore, we might ask all the questions in the world and do our best to understand a situation, in the end, we still might not understand people and situations. Some people don’t give up until they understand something. Well, sometimes, no matter how hard one tries, they won’t understand what is going on. No one can always understand everything. The sooner people will accept that, the better off they will be.
By the way, labels people put on you might help you understand how the world sees you. It doesn’t mean that’s who you are, it simply means that’s who people think you are. Aside from the label, it might help you understand others. I am saying this as a person who is labelled frequently because of my writings. Most people who label me are people I have never met, people I have never had a conversation with, oddly enough. Nevertheless, they label me, as it is their right. I cannot and certainly don’t want to control people’s thoughts.
I don’t resent being labelled; it is what people do and what I do as well. I would say I know it is an integral and unequivocal part of the human condition. Labelling people is human. Should we be more careful with judging people and situations? Should we add context more often to situations? Should we use empathy and understanding when dealing with others? Of course, we should. That requires a substantial mental shift on the person’s part, which isn’t easy. Yet, it is worth trying.
Boxes and labels do exist. I don’t believe that to be necessarily a bad thing. As people, we don’t fit in just one box; we fit in a myriad of boxes. No person is simply one thing anyway. Labels are mostly unfair, but what are they based on? Maybe they are based on a sliver of truth and then, once drowned in people’s biases and personal experiences, those characteristics are blown out of proportion and the truth slowly evaporates. Taking our time in impartially analyzing and understanding a situation is frankly a superpower few people possess.
I don’t hate labels despite being sometimes unkindly described by others. Labels can be a proof of one being misunderstood. Labels can be dangerous, funny, harmless but mostly I’d say labels show us another view of the world, one that we might have never considered. I try my best not to label people, but I occasionally fail. The human mind is complex and complicated, so I try to cut myself some slack. The moment you listen to the labels and they don’t bother you, I’d say you are on the right path. You can only control what you do and say, you can adjust but you cannot and should not control what others think and do. Worry more about yourself. The labels will keep coming anyway. Just do your thing.
Just one man’s opinion.
Now smile and go on with your day!