“Once you label me, you negate me.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
To label or not to label — that is the question. From a sales and marketing perspective, labels help to distinguish brands. They serve a product differentiation purpose. Labels can also benefit when used to identify or inform, to wit, nutritional labels on food packaging. I read those zealously.
Then there are cases where labels are used to highlight differences in people. We use them often without thinking, even if unuttered. Some examples:
- Type A/Type B
- the list is, unfortunately, endless
Increasingly, it seems, we have an unhealthy compulsion to categorize. Between social media, the Internet and other quasi-anonymous platforms, people are becoming more obsessed with telling other people what their label is, supposedly so they’ll better understand and accept them/us.
Or consider stereotyping: how have the labels we placed kept others from truly being who they are meant and blessed to be? How much of life’s joy and goodness have we actually missed because our labels have masked us to what is actually within another person?
I, and likely you, have seen people get carried away with negative labeling. They become their label and the label (sadly, often) becomes their identity. They don’t know where the label ends and where they, the incredible being begins.
Conversely, it’s rare that people get caught up in positive labeling. Surprisingly, many people are unable to cite a single positive for themselves. Try this: ask a few people, “What are your good qualities or character strengths?” Then notice their immediate reaction(s).
Reinforcing labels need to be nurtured, now more than ever. Why not consider using and promoting labels that describe positive human goals, worthwhile achievements, or an improvement in the human condition? She is healthy. He is educated, They are free!
What if each of us abandoned the negativity of personal, social, and political labels? Imagine our interactions and relationships when the differences we highlight and label are an individual’s unique qualities!
For your consideration, here are three exercises that could augment your label assigning awareness:
- When you catch yourself labeling someone, ask yourself, “Why did I do that?” Be mindful that definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.
- Focus on intentionally using labels that positively reflect a person’s attributes.
- When you observe someone doing something positive, label the strengths you observe them demonstrating.