The problem with labels.
How do you label yourself? How do you label your tribe?
Are you male or female? Are you young or old? Would you say you are typically a happy person? Or more stoic person? Even if you choose to not identify as a label, you are identifying as “the type of person that doesn’t identify with labels.”
How do you label your tribe?
Are you Asian or Mexican? Are you a Gen Xer or Millenial? Are you Democrat or Republican?
Your tribe is an extension of your identity. It is a connection with others who’s identity also aligns with your own.
If our thoughts become our actions, then who we think we are results in choosing, acting, and living according to this identity.
Labels are not inherently good or bad; but they can be used for good and can be used for bad.
Choosing a label is incredibly valuable to our happiness. It allows us to align ourselves with others that believe what we believe. Essentially when we meet new people, it is a game of “People like me do X, do people like you do X?” And hence with enough affirmative answers, a relationship grows.
Choosing a label allows us to make decisions more easily by simply referring to this identity. Should I buy a gas guzzling truck? Or should I buy a Prius? You can see how this decision could be easy made if you have already established your identity and tribe.
This decision making process trickles into every aspect of our lives. “People like me buy cars like this.” “People like me buy food like this.” “People like me parent like this.” “People like me wake up at this time.”
These are the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves. And it’s great! It is essential to our human survival to be able to have a resource in order to make decisions quickly. Without these stories, it’s like reinventing the wheel! We would be making all decisions by starting from scratch. We would be overwhelmed with EVERY decision!
Now the problem with labels….
How defensive does a vegan get when challenged to eat meat? How defensive does a Republican get when you promote Pro-Choice? How defensive does a Millenial get when you call them lazy? Well, maybe not that defensive, they know it’s true haha.
Yes, they get defensive because you are challenging their principles and beliefs, but they are also getting defensive because you are challenging their identity, you are attacking their tribe; and depending on how devout we are to this identity and tribe, they will defend against anything that threatens this connection.
Because without this connection, without this identity, we would be left without a sense of self.
As we said earlier, labels are inevitable. Therefore, it is not our mission to be sans label, it is our mission to better understand their implications and consequences.
Labels come in a package. We call them stereotypes; and like it or not, they exist. And consciously, or unconsciously, they impact our thoughts, behavior, and decisions.
What stereotypes do we associate with vegans? About homosexual people? About being an American? Instantly we conjure up an idea of what these people look like, act like, and what decisions they may make on type of food, clothes, cars, jobs, etc.
Therefore, when we label OURSELVES with these labels, without conscious self-reflection we may unconsciously assimilate many of these traits without question.
“If I am Asian, then I should be driving this car.” “If I am homosexual, then I should be acting this way.” “If I am American, then I should be eating this way.”
Without conscious effort to decide our own path, we may end up eating, driving, wearing, and living life according to these stereotypes; a life that it was not our intention of living.
The package idea also creates a level of assumption. If we are vegan, and we meet someone that is also vegan, the package of stereotypes comes into play, and we assume they have very similar principles. But what if they don’t? For example, we may assume a vegan is also very eco-conscious. If they are not, and you are passionately eco-conscious, then you may not want to bring those people into your tribe.
On the flipside, what if you are vegan and meet someone that identifies as a meat eater? The package of meat eater stereotypes may, at face value, clash with your ideals as a vegan. But what if you’re wrong? What if they may identify as a meat eater, but on many other aspects largely have many of the ideals you also have? If we were to quickly write them off, we may miss an incredibly opportunity.
Again, labels themselves are not inherently good or bad. They are not something we need to do away with. They are not something that we can even avoid. But our ability to use them wisely; for the greater good of ourselves and each other, matters tremendously.
Live Intentionally and Reflect on how labels impact yourself, how you view those around you, and your life decisions. You may just change the world.