Escaping Labels

MLN-FrontPorch-14Recently I referred to myself as a widow and a friend admonished, “Don’t label yourself.”  I hadn’t considered that I was labeling myself.  Nonetheless, the remark prompted me to take a deeper look at labeling.  (Isn’t it wonderful to have friends who push you to think and get your creative juices flowing? Thanks, Cindi.)

The three most common types of labeling are:

  • General labeling: The tendency to distort ideas, events, people, and etc. by grouping them under overly generalized labels in support of a specific argument or to exclude them from a specific group.
  • Statement of fact labeling: The tendency to identify ideas, events, people, and so forth  by labels in order to help reduce complexity or make it easier to understand them.  (“Widow” falls into this category)  
  • Prejudicial or malicious labeling:  The tendency to intentionally use labels that are hateful, untrue, disrespectful, misleading and/or inflammatory in order to cause hurt or discomfort to others.  In my opinion, this type of labeling creates many of the deepest problems that humans face. Nonetheless, I won’t be addressing that in this column – that is another column for another day.

The act of labeling is not necessarily negative.  Negativity begins when folks use labels to stereotype others or when individuals allow themselves to be limited or confined by a specific label.  A smart approach to labeling is to choose the labels you will accept, the ones you will wear with pride, the ones you will reject and the ones you will ignore.  For example, some folks dislike being labeled ‘slow Southerner’ or ‘redneck’.  They have every right to reject that label even if they are from the Deep South.  As for me I wear my ‘slow, laid back Southern’ heritage label with pride.  Some women find the label (job title) PBX operator demeaning.  Hence, I suggest they ignore it and use another job title or just don’t mention their job. I’m proud to have begun my career as a PBX operator.  I used my brain and charm to earn every promotion I received since then. Moving beyond those humble beginnings was a test of my grit and a compliment to my abilities.

Knowing who you are and what you stand for gives you the freedom to enjoy appropriate labels.  You alone should decide whether you are smart or dumb, proud or shamed, ambitious or lazy. Don’t let others decide which label you wear. Labeling is only a tool to help identify what you’re feeling and enable you to connect with others like you in the community and the world.

Ok, so what have I learned about labels?

  1. I abhor prejudicial labeling and refuse to participate in any form of it.
  2. I dislike general labeling and avoid or reject it whenever feasible.
  3. I have no objections to statement of fact labeling and make little attempt to avoid or escape it.  Frankly, I don’t believe escaping this type of labeling is feasible or desirable.

Betty Freeman Haines, an author and award winning columnist, lives in Mesquite, NV.  Her books/e-books, Reluctant Hero and Grieving Sucks or Does It, can be ordered from amazon.comShare your thoughts and opinions with her at betvern@cascadeaccess.com

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