12/23/14: Letting Go of Labels

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.

9 thoughts on “12/23/14: Letting Go of Labels

  1. thoughtful post – I do my best to avoid labels – instead of calling myself by my job title, I refer to myself as someone who works through a particular action.

    There are languages (such as Kanien’kéha the language of the Kanien’kehá:ka also known as Mohawk or Iroquois) that has almost no nouns, but a huge abundance of verbs. Their language encapsulates the flux of life. Instead of considering oneself a “person” the language forces you to consider yourself “being.”

    culture and language are so intricately and intimately linked that the cultures that have developed along with noun-heavy languages lend themselves to a type of static labelling that other languages and cultures may not (not that they don’t have their own struggles and limitations).

    thanks for provoking thought. =D

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    1. Wow, I had no idea. That’s super interesting, thank you! I will look more into it. I agree that both language and culture have definitely spawned a lot of the label creating that we do as humans, and maybe that’s where some of the problem lies. Thanks for your insights, I really appreciate it.

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      1. my pleasure to share what I’ve picked up along the way – and for the record, I don’t speak the language but had it explained to me in plain old english.

        also, there’s English Prime i.e. English without using the verb “to be” – it has its limits, but forces one to avoid labelling things in a static way. Instead of “I am angry” you could say “I feel angry.” which is more descripitive and less labelling.

        I really appreciate your posts – I always come across them at the right time. Take care =)

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    2. Very pertinent point.

      Languages facilitate thoughts and mold labels. Labels are the factors of identity that give rise to different personal equations in human relationships. Depending on the given stages, languages may differ among themselves in their capacity to formulate labels. They are always changing.

      But the question is not either increasing or decreasing the number of labels. Ms. Avery Rogers has already upheld the view that the labels are essential and unavoidable; though they cause conflicts. The goal is the reduction of conflicts by proper management of conflicts.

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      1. Beyond conflict, I find the use of labels to often be reductive, and that is the particular usage I do my best to eschew. Any attempt to manage conflict requires open and respectful communication, which I don’t believe reductive language does.

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  2. You and I seem to have different opinions when it comes to labels. I think that labels are merely a tool, neither good nor bad. That quality, their goodness or badness, is decided by how we use them and allow them to influence our interpretation of the world around us.

    I think you may have jumped the gun by saying “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? ”

    It seems that you are equating the act of acknowledging differences such as race, sexuality, etc with being racist, homophobic, etc. Viewing a person as less than you due to who they are is, as you judged, negative. But there is far more at play than just that.

    Acknowledging the differences between people is a crucial part of better understanding the people you are interacting with. Ignoring the labels that are important to someone because ‘we are all human underneath it all’ is actually ignoring the very parts of someone’s identity that are most important to them and is an act of erasure. I think that the way forward is learning to be comfortable embracing the differences between people and valuing them because of the different perspectives they have. (I didn’t mention learning to value people who are similar to us because most people don’t seem to struggle with that).

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  3. You and I seem to have different opinions when it comes to labels. I think that labels are merely a tool, neither good nor bad. That quality, their goodness or badness, is decided by how we use them and allow them to influence our interpretation of the world around us.

    I think you may have jumped the gun by saying “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? ”

    It seems that you are equating the act of acknowledging differences such as race, sexuality, etc with being racist, homophobic, etc. Viewing a person as less than you due to who they are is, as you judged, negative. But there is far more at play than just that.

    Acknowledging the differences between people is a crucial part of better understanding the people you are interacting with. Ignoring the labels that are important to someone because ‘we are all human underneath it all’ is actually ignoring the very parts of someone’s identity that are most important to them and is an act of erasure. I think that the way forward is learning to be comfortable embracing the differences between people and valuing them because of the different perspectives they have. (I didn’t mention learning to value people who are similar to us because most people don’t seem to struggle with that).

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    1. You raise a very valid and fair point. I think we actually feel the same way, but I didn’t adequately explain what I meant by “letting go of labels”. When I say we should let go of labels, it does not mean I think we should rid them from our vocabulary or identity- in fact, labels unite us all and have many beneficial purposes. I instead mean that we should not judge people as merely a sum of their labels, and not separate ourselves from others automatically just because of discrepancies in our labels. We are all just blank-slate humans underneath our identities, and I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that all people came from the same Life force and are all beings on this planet. I completely agree that we must embrace the differences of others. I think the issue is that we tend to isolate people from ourselves based on their surface-level differences, and letting go of labels means getting past this initial judgement and viewing a person as more than their religion, race, ethnicity, etc.

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  4. If we want to be precise and accurate, then it needs be that we do some more thinking before we attach a label to something. Unfortunately, although labels can be used for good or bad purposes, the human tendency to immediately attach a label without consideration not only distorts our perception of reality but can often do more harm than good.

    I appreciate this point; we should learn better to let go of labels that do a disservice to ourselves and others.

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