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Culture, Life

The Problem With Labeling People

We all do it, most of the time without realizing it. We are quick to label others. Sometimes they are people we know nothing about, sometimes they are people we know very well. But regardless, labels are not a good representation of who someone is as a whole. When we label others, we are limiting our ability to see all of the things that make up who they are.

There is always way more to someone than what is obvious at first. “Fat” does not really describe a person at all. Neither does “annoying”, or “nerdy”, or “unintelligent”, or “fake”. None of those words are capable of describing a whole person. They’re just the things that we see first, the things that stand out the most to our judgmental human nature. Likewise we can label people as “kind”, “beautiful”, or “talented”. And even though those are wonderful things to say about a person, they don’t fully embody who the person is.

I find myself labeling people often. I think that it is ultimately my way of trying to make sense of people. But regardless, it’s something I am working on. I label everyone that comes across my path, usually without thinking. I often don’t mean it unkindly either. Sometimes it’s as simple as meeting someone for the first time and labeling them as “boring”. And it may feel like that is a true statement. But it sets the stage for all of my interactions with them in the future.

It’s different now than it was in high school. Now that I am an adult (sort of), I have come to find that many of us do our people labeling inside of our brains. There are exceptions to this and often the exception is the media, but as a whole, we refrain from labeling someone to their face. So we’re not really hurting anyone that way, right? Why does it matter if we label them in our own heads?

Here’s the thing guys, it matters. It matters because how we treat others affects us. Not only are we limiting our idea of someone when we label them, but ultimately, we are comparing them to ourselves. When we label someone as pretty, often we are comparing them to ourselves, thus labeling them “prettier than us”. When we label someone as a loser, we are giving them that label because we feel we are cooler than them, and ultimately are letting our own pride stand in the way of our connection to that person.

So really, when you think about it. Labeling others is really more about us than it is about them. It can tell us a lot about our own insecurities, or the areas we need to be humbled a little bit. And when we stand back and look at it all, what is the point anyway? Does it benefit us to slap labels on others? Would we like others to identify us by only one of our many attributes? There is more to me than being loud and, at times, controlling. But in social settings, when I get nervous, I talk loudly and constantly, probably causing many to label me all sorts of things. But there is so much more to me than that. In fact, underneath all that there are a lot of cool things about me.

We may never completely kick the habit of labeling people (I will let you know if I do). But we can choose to be more aware of ourselves, and others. When we go to the grocery store and instinctively start labeling the people we meet in the aisles, let’s try to catch ourselves. As I said before, labeling people is my way of trying to make sense of a person, to understand someone I may never meet. So if that is the case, then wondering about them is a much better choice than labeling with one word. What do I mean by wondering about someone? I mean to humanize the person you’re itching to label by reminding yourself of the things that could be going on in their life. For instance, if someone has been cutting me off over and over again on the way to work, I can label them as “rude”, or I can wonder to myself if maybe life is really hard for them right now, or maybe they have intense anxiety like I do and driving causes them to panic. In this way, we can remind ourselves that they are people just like us.

Really, what it comes down to, is giving grace to others. Let’s all vow to put an end to this pointless labeling, and learn to see each other as the intricately beautiful human beings that we are.

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