Friday, September 7, 2012

A rose by any other name...

Why do we label ourselves? All the time. By what we eat, what we do, what we buy, where we were born, where we live, the way we look, whom we vote for, what we read, what we believe, how we think.... the list is endless. I think it satisfies an innate need in us to identify and understand ourselves and our place in the world. Labels define our choices (sadly, for some of us, it isn’t the other way around) and dictate our actions and therefore reflect who we are. We use it to project an image of who we want to be, to form friendships, to earn a livelihood and to belong. To be part of a community with values and ideals that appeal to our sensibilities. We connect to each other based on commonalities and for this, labels help. We are drawn to labels. To labels that define character, occupation and lifestyle. It is not easy to just be. Probably there is a label for that too :-)

Labels to define a profession do have its uses. If I am sick, I would like to know that I am going to a doctor. I trust in the fact that a doctor spends years training for the service he/she provides and from all that time, money and effort invested, gains valuable expertise in a chosen field. That valid argument aside, who is to say that a doctor can only be a doctor, not an artist, say. Any profession, in my opinion, can be interpreted both as a science and an art. What if a doctor decides that it isn’t working any more? What if he ends up feeling chained down because of the labels he has already earned and becomes uninspired doing what he does just because he thinks that it is too late to be anything else?

It takes courage and tenacity to break the shackles and stop conforming to labels. To march to your own drum. To do what really fires you up. I was amazed when someone I know, who has a masters degree in music, switched to computer programming just because that seemed possible and another acquaintance, an engineer, who in his late thirties decided to study to be a doctor after a decade in IT. It is inspiring and promising to come across spirited individuals who actually go exploring beyond labels of their past occupation and credentials.

So, the flip side to labeling is that it can also be very limiting. With respect to us being open to trying something totally different. It curbs our inquisitive nature and limits our potential. It affects and confines our experiences. It restricts our ability to adapt to change or to be open to different ideas. It makes us rigid in our ways and closed up to new possibilities. It makes us judgemental. We end up seeing others through a labeling glass and miss out on knowing the person as their own individual self.

Labeling serves a purpose when discovering a new species of fungi or maybe when you are buying a box of crackers...but transmuting it to label someone who thinks differently is not really necessary. So if you want to label someone, use their name. Isn't that the purpose of it? I know it is a hard habit to beat, it certainly is for me. So, while we are working at it.....what do you call someone who can’t do anything consistently enough to save her life? Fickle? Yes, call me that. Or what do you call someone who is so full of herself? Right, yeah, call me that too :-)

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