What’s in a Name? Living Life Without Labels

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
~William Shakespeare

PART ONE: WHAT’S IN A LABEL?

Take a look at this picture.

What comes to mind?

unnamed
credit to Ben Hoffman

Like me, you probably came up with a bunch of labels for him (e.g., man, young, Caucasian, dark blonde, attractive, punk/alternative, etc.). We put him in a little box, slap on the appropriate labels, and tie it with a nice little ribbon. Done.

We. Love. Labels.

Yes, the fashion kind, and also the people kind.

It goes without saying that labels make life so much easier.

Of course, some labels are necessary for our survival. For example, “My brain has recognized this piece of sushi as food, which will nourish my body so, I shall eat it” or “my brain has determined that the approaching object is a car, which can injure me so, I shall not cross the street at this moment.” But for the purpose of this article, I will only discuss labels that we associate with people.

Of course, people labels have a purpose.

They give us identity:

  • I am a vegetarian.
  • You are a Catholic.
  • He is a homeless person.
  • We are Canadian.

They tell us how to (and how not to) behave:

  • Vegetarians never eat meat.
  • Christians always go to church.
  • Homeless people will happily accept any donations.
  • Canadians are always polite.

Labels help us to comprehend complex concepts by simplifying them into easy-to-follow check boxes of attributes, and subsequently, depositing them into an appropriate mental category (e.g., vegetarian, Catholic, feminist, Canadian, etc.). Ergo, we can efficiently and effectively make decisions about any external stimuli (i.e., people) according to how many check-boxes it crosses off and which label we’ve subsequently thrust on it.

Easy-peasy-nice-and-easy.

 

PART TWO: JUDGEMENT PASSED

Within a split second, we observe the behaviour and physical features displayed by the person in question, and then, we assess when they deserve (or don’t deserve) a particular label. Of course, being our own worse critics, we use the same method to judge our own inclusion to a group. In return, people labels dictate how we think of, feel about, and behave towards others.

Don’t believe me? How would you react to the following people?

  • Even though I identify as vegetarian, I ate some chicken.
  • Even though you identify as Christian, you don’t attend church.
  • Even though he identifies as homeless, he rejected your donation.
  • Even though we identify as true blooded Canadian, we can’t stand the cold.

In the above cases, we would probably judge them as hypocrites, undeserving of their labels. Most of us would just laugh off these situations, but some of us might even act a ittle negatively towards them. I know because I’ve experienced all of them.

But…

What if I told you that…

  • the vegetarian ate the chicken because their friend, with their limited funds and unknowing of the friend’s dietary preferences, prepared a meal for them in honor of their newly formed friendship?
  • the Christian feels unwelcomed when they attend church because their beliefs don’t seamlessly coincide with the beliefs of the congregation?
  • the homeless person didn’t accept the food because they have an allergy to an ingredient in the food offering?
  • the Canadian has a physical condition that makes it difficult to regulate their internal body temperature?

Without even realizing it, people labels have influenced our perception of self (thought), limited our empathy (emotions), and allowed us to excuse our and other’s douchebaggery (behaviour). Herein lies the problem of using a simple method of categorizing on more complex situations.

 

PART THREE: OBSESSED WITH PUNISHMENT

We also LOVE to punish people for their labels. We point our fingers and do the victim dance, “He did it! He did it! He did it! PUNISH HIIIIIIIIM”

Recently, social media has been inundated with labels, used to condition the public’s reaction (i.e., the Stanford rape and the Orlando massacre).

  • Stanford all-star male swimmer raped unconscious girl
  • Islamic sympathizer assassinated LGBT party-goers

Like trained seals, the internet ate up these labels and went wild; some cheered their behavior while others condemned it. But most of these judgements were based solely on the labels associated with the culprits.

For Turner: He’s a young, celebrated Stanford swimmer

Against T: Great! Another white male overstepping the system.

For Omar: Damn those homos! They deserved it.

Against O: He’s a homophobic, ISIS sympathizer. Nuff said.

However, T & O’s only crime was getting caught in the label war. What about all the other acts of hatred that go unpunished? What about seeing people as simply people? We’ve become so preoccupied with dancing the victim dance and dealing out just consequences that we’ve forgotten to step back and apply some empathy.

 

PART FOUR: WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH EMPATHY

What is empathy? Check out this video [here] if you’re unsure.

Empathy requires a conscious intention to:

  1. Take another’s perspective
  2. Stay out of judgement
  3. Recognize their emotions
  4. Communicate your recognition

We refuse to empathise with T & O because we’re afraid it will come across as accepting their behavior and devaluing the victims. I think we are confusing sympathy and empathy. Please note that expressing empathy does not in any way excuse people from the consequences of their behaviour. After all, we live in a civilized society: you do the crime, you pay the time. As well, it does not shift empathy away from the victims. I, like most of us, spent days crying, reflecting, and empathizing for the victims of Stanford and Pulse. Some of us have even been in similar situations.

Empathy is simply a method of thinking, separate from emotions & behavior. T & O did not exhibit any empathy before, during, or after their crime, but why?

When you choose to elicit empathy, you put your own emotions, judgements, and agendas on hold and consider the situation from all possible perspectives. When you practice this thought process more and more, you’ll become a bit more objective, and a little less punishment obsessed. Perhaps you will even discover the underlying reason that the unwanted behavior occurred in the first place.

Let’s practice!

Turner:

  • He lives in a society that coddles young, white males
  • 20-year olds think they are invincible
  • Media is saturated with oversexualized, submissive images of women
  • Sexual consent is not taken seriously
  • The victim should be able to drink in a safe, respected place without fear of being taken advantage of
  • He believed that his own enjoyment was more important than showing compassion
  • His sentence was considered unfair, yet thousands of marginalized youth are disproportionally incarcerated by this “fair” justice system
  • We want his sentence to be longer, but that’s like putting a band-aid on a stab wound; it won’t put a stop to ALL future occurrences of sexual assault
  • He’s insecure and was taught by society to find one’s value in external sources and prove that value to the world

Omar:

  • He was a closeted homosexual
  • His father has publically admitted homophobic views
  • Homophobia is a real issue
  • The victims should be able to socialize in a safe, respected place without fear of being taken advantage of
  • He believed that his own opinions were more important than showing compassion
  • Americans can purchase and wield a weapon without a licence, training or background check, yet cars (road weapons) are a different story
  • The common factor in all socially unstable individuals is a lack of emotional support
  • Males are encouraged to express aggressiveness and repress their emotions
  • He’s insecure and was taught by society to find one’s value in external sources and prove that value to the world

As much as we want to believe we are the innocent victims with the rightful culprit in handcuffs, we’re forgetting who created the environment for these crimes to happen. We are in fact the culprit, too. Shouldn’t we dole out punishment to ourselves? We created this label war; this method of appraising each other’s value; this system of intolerance, superiority, disconnection, anti-socialism; this unspoken doctrine that says “My views are more important than yours”. And then, we act so damn surprised when someone plays along and forcibly act out their opinions.

Imagine if T & O had one person to turn to about their insecurities and that one person simply reached out to them and said, “I’m glad you talked with me. I know how you’re feeling. You might feel like you’re not enough, but you ARE enough. You are valued for being you.”

“Love with your whole heart even if there is no guarantee. Practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror. Believe that you are enough because then, you will stop screaming and start listening. Once we believe that we’ll be kinder and gentler to those around us and to ourselves.”

~Brene Brown

 

PART FIVE: LIVING LABELLESS

Now.

Consider people for the sole fact that they are people, and look at what happens when you take away their labels.

  • The vegetarian [The person] ate the chicken because their friend, with their limited funds and unknowing of the friend’s dietary preferences, prepared a meal for them in honor of their newly formed friendship
  • The Christian [The person] feels unwelcomed when they attend church because their beliefs don’t seamlessly coincide with the beliefs of the congregation.
  • The homeless person didn’t accept the food because they have an allergy to an ingredient in the food offering.
  • The Canadian [The person] has a physical condition that makes it difficult to regulate their internal body temperature.
  • The Stanford all-star male swimmer [The person] raped unconscious girl [another person].
  • Islamic sympathizer & closeted gay man [The person] assassinated LGBT party-goers [other people].

Look beyond the labels. Search for the person of value within; a person worthy of empathy; a person responsible for the effects of their behaviour.

From now on, when people ask, “Are you x, y, or z?” I will say “No, I am labelless, and still a valuable member of the human race, deserving of your empathy, and unexcused for my own douchebaggery.”

It’s as simple as that.

帰る [kaeru] Domicile Café welcomes the labelless.

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