I've been reflecting on labels lately, and a story came to mind that I thought I'd share...
I had a friend who once replied to me with the words, “your white fragility”, and “your white saviourism”.
I could feel those words hit my ego.
Fortunately, there was enough of the secure part of me present to not immediately respond in defense. I had some feeling of love and understanding for my friend, and so I simply thanked him for sharing his perspective, and ended
the conversation there. I wasn’t feeling clear enough in the moment to do anything else.
I spent time over the ensuing days,
and even weeks after that, reflecting on that conversation whenever it popped into my mind. Parsing it out. Imagining my cogent, articulate replies. At times genuinely considering what he was trying to say. And yet, still strategizing the logic of my defence!
LOL! Even though there was some open reflection, there was still some level of insecure need within me to justify in my own mind, why and how he was wrong about me.
My ego eventually lost its attachment to the situation, as it often does with time, but in the meantime, I ended up with a really beautiful insight.
I saw with considerable depth and clarity, the power of labels, and how our habitual and innocent societal use of “labelling language” unknowingly creates separation and dehumanization.
Labels that are used to describe BEHAVIOUR, end up getting attached to PEOPLE.
We take the label as “who people are” (intrinsically and without redemption), instead of “where people are” in temporary moments. And we tend to do this especially more so, whenever we happen to be in an insecure state of
The thing is, it’s hard to change the shortcuts of our language. It’s sooooooo easy and convenient to put things
into labelled groups without mentioning all the exceptions, and without detailing all the context and all the complex contributing conditions… and without inevitably attaching the behaviours to people.
I don’t have the answer for fixing this, but I am definitely much more aware now of the labelling I use, than I ever was in the past.
For example, I regularly engage in discussions with “the homeless” and “the marginalized”, but I’ve been trying to STOP speaking about them in
those terms because I see now how it conjures up a picture of “othering”. It disconnects them from me… I can even feel the separation of them from me when I say those words.
Instead, when I remember, I’ve begun saying things like “human beings who are temporarily experiencing homelessness” or I will instead refer to specific experiences or stories.
It keeps ME grounded in our common humanity. And I hope that it also, in some small way, fosters mental pictures for others that allow them to remain in their own understanding of their common humanity as well.
And it’s not that labels can’t or shouldn’t be used. There are temporary times and places and contexts for them.
But, in EVERY moment I want to live my life more graciously and peacefully and joyfully and clear-headedly, and with the intent of goodwill and connection, for me personally, I
need to drop the labels.
The interesting thing is that the more secure and grounded and peaceful my own state of mind in the
moment, the less likely that any labels will even appear in my mind. Instead, I’m simply seeing the miraculous, incomprehensible, and fascinating human beings right in front of me, and not their temporarily limiting behaviours or beliefs... no matter
what labels they may be giving me.