We seem to be constantly overwhelmed with the amount of conflict and oppression in our world; and we should be, unless we have become numb to it due to the sheer amount we see every day. We see each conflict as a combination of many unique, complicated causes, that must be solved with an ingenious new compromise (in addition to the thousands of other original compromises previously created about the issue). Even on a personal level, conflict abounds. Each situation of oppression and conflict may seem unique, but all come from the same root problem: labels.
First, I would like to define a “label”, because it is not simply what you write on your name tag or bio online. A label is anything that you use to distinguish yourself from other human beings: race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, school, workplace, relationship status, wealth, age, etc. When we identify ourselves as anything other than “human”, we are labeling ourselves and making ourselves distinct from other human beings. Maybe I call myself smart; now I’ve separated myself from the less intelligent people in this world.
Labeling is all derived from ego- that inner entity that is constantly trying to grow larger and absorb as much power and recognition as possible. When I add to my list of labels, by joining groups and exclusive states of being, I am fueling my ego by giving it more separateness from the rest of humanity. The ego’s goal, really, is to be one of a kind by taking on so many labels it has separated itself from the rest of the world.
Obviously, labeling is inevitable; it’s not always a bad thing, either. In order for humans to connect, we form cultures, and incorporate them into our identity. It is far easier to share a bond with another human when you have both immersed yourself in a similar set of labels. Groups that work to service humankind should never be shut down, whether they are a label or otherwise.
That being said, labels and the ego can also be dangerous. By labeling ourselves, we allow ourselves to view others as beings on different planes. We lose part of our innate human connection through our ego, rather than strengthening our human bond, because the ego craves separateness. We can much more easily turn a cheek at, say, children in Afghanistan than children belonging to our own church. It seems to make sense, but it’s truly a very perilous outlook. With labels and separateness, we begin to give certain human beings more worth and precedence than others based on how many labels we share in common.
Imagine a world in which there was no ego and we all lived synchronously for each other; how could conflict and oppression arise? Without labels, there would be no social order, no inequality, and no conflict. We would help each other, since we would innately understand that everyone was exactly equal, exactly human.
This is not an attainable goal. No matter what, there are always people who cling to ego like a parent, afraid to leave the cradle of comfort labels give us. The goal is not to lose our labels, because it’s unrealistic; rather, we must learn to view others as more than a set of labels, on both a conscious and unconscious level. A concrete example of looking past labels is learning not to be racist, or homophobic, or antisemitic. Instead of viewing someone as black, or gay, or Jewish, why can’t we view them as simply human? We are all exactly the same below our ego, part of the permanent energy source that is life. We lose sight of our commonalities in the face of labels, lose sight of our collective human consciousness that we are all a part of.
Learning to look past labels on a subconscious and fundamental level is a process, and an arduous one. I certainly cannot see everyone as exactly the same without labels. I believe the first step, and the most critical one, is recognizing when the ego is talking. Recognize those moments in which you judge a person or situation because it is in conflict with your own labels. Say to yourself that it’s the labels talking, not the human inside you talking, and try to let it go. Open up to people whose labels you may not agree with, and you will see: they, like you, are good and pure and simply another human trying to find their place in this world too.
We may not be able to change the view of the whole world. Not everyone will give up their labels, as it is painful, the spiritual equivalent of treading uncharted waters. That’s okay; we can’t live in a perfect world. But by individually trying to see through labels and quiet the ego, we can contribute our own little piece of kindness to the world, and that’s what we should all strive for. We all have the power to make the energy in this world a little more positive, and letting go of labels is one way to make the world a little brighter.