Gucci, Pucci, Prada…


“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:

  • right/wrong
  • introvert/extrovert
  • clean/dirty
  • ugly/beautiful
  • Type A/Type B
  • left-wing/right-wing
  • the list is, unfortunately, endless

Label Loser

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.

Label Toxic

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!

Labeling Colors

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:

  1.  When you catch yourself labeling someone, ask yourself, “Why did I do that?” Be mindful that definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.
  2.  Focus on intentionally using labels that positively reflect a person’s attributes.
  3.  When you observe someone doing something positive, label the strengths you observe them demonstrating.

42 thoughts on “Gucci, Pucci, Prada…

  1. An interesting article, Eric. I think increasingly we are persuaded to identify with brands through what I call ’emotive marketing’, and consequently come to associate character types with brands. For example, if we say “she’s an Apple kind of woman, but her friend’s a bit Microsoft”, we instantly assume an idea of the respective character types and their dispositions; it becomes a kind of shorthand means of stereotyping.

    • Yes, Hariod, we *are* being constantly persuaded (I prefer the word, barraged) to identify with brands, for better or worse. Wouldn’t it be good if the Marketing folks chose to align their pitches and messaging with true ‘character’? I like and agree with your “shorthand” image, albeit a too easily applied and sad reference.

  2. I fear the majority of us have been conditioned (on purpose or not) to mention the negatives. Because they usually don’t have anything to say unless you messed something up they have to deal with. Since I started the job I’m at now I’ve made a conscious decision to build people up because they’re great at what they do, but they’re usually automatically so negative. I’m closing in on two years and I can notice little to no change in the people around me. Not that this deters me, that just means it’s a long, uphill climb and immediate results should not be expected to those choosing to undertake this lovely endeavor.

    • I just had a similar conversation with my best friend. When complimenting a person, I have found that they will have to accept the compliment by pointing out something negative about themselves to balance it out. I told a woman last week that she looked great in her outfit. She was wearing a very smart skirt with opaque tights. She felt inclined to mention that she was wearing opaque tights because she suffered from varicose veins. I didn’t ask why she was wearing opaque tights. I just wanted her to know how great she looked. Some of us have been conditioned to think that we are in some way not worthy of praise, that the world should not see the good in us. Like you, I am making it my mission to help in any way I can.

    • Long, uphill climbs are synonymous with perseverance, right D.D.? Often, those endeavors we choose to channel our energy into are considerable investments of our time. Yet, if we aren’t working to effect positive change, how is it ever going to materialize? Your observations are poignant and your personal experiences with this, noble. Kudos to you!

      • Exactly! Nothing will ever change for the better if no one sees that it can be done and see that it doesn’t have to be something temporary. Thank you!

    • Sad that there are far too many Hester’s ‘out there’ who haven’t learned how to shrug! Appreciate your sharing this post, Nancy, and for your omni-present humor (wine & bananas). 🙂

  3. Another interesting article and perspective Eric..

    The world is geared to stamp their labels.. sometimes its designer labels and sometimes its how we are brought up to give out labels to others in the world.. We are so easy to judge .. Thinking Designer is best… Upper Class, Middle Class, and those who are on the Poverty Line.. All labels all instantly create images within the mind of perceptions and expectations..

    Love your 3 exercises 🙂
    Have a wonderful weekend

    • To your thoughtful comment, Sue, and the post’s message, if we can simply create awareness about what we do and the impact it has on people, then maybe we can be a force behind when and why labels are so haphazardly ascribed. The harmful ones, even when invoked ‘innocently’, have no place in our already complex and stressful world. So..we just need to keep on, keeping on. 🙂 Glad you appreciated the three exercises. Have a fantastic week ahead!

  4. I will label you as thoughtful though. You raise some good points here, and one more than one occasion a day I find myself automatically putting a person into a box (Although some people really deserve to be put there with a padlock and the key lost leaving them there to rust!). I try to not let that affect me in my judgement, but it is tough.

    • Thank you, Prajakta. I graciously accept how you have chosen to label me. 🙂 I like your sense of humor as most of know those people who deserve to relegated elsewhere. I agree, it *is* tough to not let labeling (whether it originates with us or by others) affect us. But it is possible to change, too. And rather than “leaving them there to rust” – maybe we find ways to salvage them. That’s tough too.

  5. `Focus on intentionally using labels that positively reflect a person’s attributes´…
    That´s certainly a good way to put off stereotypes and to avoid labels..
    You advice and thoughts here are truly valuable, dear Eric…
    Sending love and best wishes. Aquileana 😉

    • To your comment, Aquileana, why create and/or support stereotypes when we have endless opportunities to highlight an individual’s unique qualities/attributes/talents? You and I seem to think similarly. Now we simply need to be more mindful of whenever we or others too easily apply labels. Warmest wishes returned your way. Have a great week ahead!

  6. … And there are labels, positive or negative, that people embrace themselves. I say screw it! No matter what labels put on yourself, constructive or not, you just really need to just focus on working on it or enhancing it. 😉

    • And sometimes, Rommel, it’s those very labels that people put on themselves that can do more lasting damage than ones applied by others. Yet sadly, some individual’s are unaware of what they do to themselves. I like your focus on “enhancing” it. That’s both easy to do and promising.

  7. It’s a great article. Like Erich Fromm said in The Sane Society, you are who you are the commodity you purchase. I guess the corporations did good jobs to sell their products with people’s insecurity, especially with those social media!

  8. Thank you. Of course, they (corporations) are masters of manipulation… and preying on the weak as well as vulnerable masses. And to your comment… the questionable impact that social media has played in amplifying positive and negative labeling – whichever better serves their bottom line. Okay, I’m stepping off my soap box. 🙂 Smiling at your getting my Irish up.

  9. It is hard to go through school if you have a label attached. Studies in education show if you are given folders of slow kids but labeled “gifted” they will achieve more. There are a few movies which demonstrate how parents should advocate for their children. As adults, we must try to prevent ourselves from labeling others nor accepting past lavels on us. It is an interesting but rather complicated subject. In the 70’s as a middle school language arts teacher, any mischievous student was asked to be a helper, bulletin board creator, leader in some area. I was 23 but liked making individual contracts with my students. First day of classes passed out my list of expectations then had the class write their own classroom rules down and then we compiled them. 🙂 Labels should be like you said, Eric, expressing unique talents, qualities and strengths. A manager may do this without creating jealousy by giving each member of a team a suggestion of which direction would work best for each individual. I hope the managers are able to understand how powerful a tool this would become. 🙂

    • Yours is a breath-of-fresh-air comment, Robin. I clearly hear and agree with all of what you share here. Having spent a sizable chunk of my adult years in quasi-management roles, I know the value in praise and using positivity to motivate people and to build self-esteem. It seems you had similar successes when you were teaching. Here’s to our individually and collectively creating awareness around when and how to ‘label’ constructively!

      • Thank you for understanding my ramblings, Eric. There are times it seems long ago, where sensible people understood my underlying meanings. I hope to have more “meetings” of our minds.

  10. I suppose it’s human nature to more quickly accept the negative over the positive — in any aspect of life, it seems. Great reminder for me as I have been as guilty of giving and receiving labels as anyone.

    • I hear you, Linda, yet I wonder why we so easily default to that ‘negative’ when we can just as simply see and invoke the positive. (Okay, off my soapbox 🙂 ) Perhaps with a slight increase in/with our intentional awareness, many of us can shift the manner in which we give and personally respond to labels. Call me an optimist. 🙂

  11. Eric an interesting topic and one I have tried hard to avoid after my son was diagnosed with ASD. But in this world he gets all kinds of labels. I try to tell the children who ask about him that he just learns different from them. He has a diffability not a disability. Labels will always be there I think sometimes its best to teach your children that what others think of them does not matter. But its a long hard journey.

    • I can only imagine the work it requires for you to keep you son buoyed with all that swirls around him, Kath. Even the simplicity in your word choices (diffability vs disability) evidences not only the challenges but the opportunity to help reframe people’s views about what/how they label affects others. I wrote this post because of the injustice of judgment that I have seen countless people subjected to when what they (and all of us) truly deserve is understanding and compassion. May you be ever strong as you work to change how people carelessly label. I stand with you.

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