I have heard so many arguments whereby people want to banish labels so that we can obtain a world free from judgement, discrimination and seclusion.
The one thing that is often missed though, is it is not the actual label that is the cause of any of these problems.
The trouble exists in judgement.
People judge one another, regardless of labels.
We place judgements on appearance, on behaviour, culture, basically on anything that we perceive as different or on things that we do not fully understand.
The main thing that causes us to judge is fear. The main reason we become fearful is because we do not understand something.
Fear is the main reason that people react negatively to anything or anyone (including themselves).
As much as many of us hate labels, it is idealistic to say we should abolish labels, as they can be the one thing that determines the help, support and services that may be necessary in order to assist someone.
For example, I have dyslexia and a diagnosis of autism. I myself am deeply fearful of the judgements that these labels place upon me as it can lead to being ostracised due to other people’s lack of knowledge about them and fear of the unknown. I know that many people do not have a vast understanding of either of these things and I have been judged in the past and people will continue to judge me harshly in the future.
I will be judged despite the label. I will be judged based on how my brain operates a little differently and also on how my basic sensory modes function. The label isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason.
Some of these differences are outwardly obvious and whilst I don’t wish to print a label and paste it to my forehead and I do not find it something that is easy to discuss, I do find great comfort in the label for myself. This is because being labelled meant I was then in a position to research and educate myself, so I now have an in depth awareness and a great understanding of why I do not fit into many of the round pegs that society has carved out.
Other people’s fear and harsh judgement means that, although I’m writing about it here as I feel it is essential to break down these taboos, it is very rare that I tell anyone in my day-to-day life. Even though my inability to discuss it causes me even more stress and alienation due to some of the struggles I face.
As much as I hate labels, I do believe they are essential. Before my diagnosis, life was a daily nightmare. I had no clue as to why the world around me seemed so difficult, different and complex. Navigating things that other people would find so simple could cause tears, anger and frustration, as I felt stupid, incompetent and worthless.
I remember once reading about someone describing the first time they received a “label,” i.e., diagnosis, and they said, “It was like suddenly finding out the whole world had the magical ability to read minds, yet no one had told me about it.” This statement alone brought me to cry buckets of pent up tears and still makes me fill up when I remember that moment now. Suddenly finding out that there was a reason for my differences released the weight of the whole world from my shoulders in an instant.
The reason being is that without certain labels we can feel so alone in the world, so lost and utterly helpless, not knowing where to turn to for support.
Despite a lot of talk about the desire for independence, strength and solitude, the truth is, many of us need warm arms to fall into when we find the world a difficult place to exist in. We find that warmth we are seeking in the arms of support groups, social media, Internet research, doctors, therapists, books, mentors and if we are very fortunate, in the embrace of family and friends.
Labels are also beneficial to bring awareness to the unjust treatment of people due to race, sexual orientation, culture and those who suffer from abuse of any kind.
For example, when Barack Obama was declared President it was a great achievement for black people and highlighted the peril of racism not only in America but also across the rest of the world.
Feminists choose to label themselves as it highlights the negative treatment of women and also the inequalities that they endure.
The LGBTQ community also largely describe themselves by using labels as it helps to raise awareness and provide education for what used to be taboo subjects.
In my opinion, certain labels should stay. It is the harsh judgement and stereotyping of them that needs to go.
And maybe when we have dropped judgement and we open our minds to the fact that we are all different and we all offer and show compassion and understanding, then that’s when labels can go too.
We are all human. That should be the only thing that matters when we think of another person.
In the meantime there are particular labels that are detrimental and ones that I believe have no place in society. Although I have been using the term labels, there is a big difference between labels that people identify with and “labels” used to cause offense and dehumanise.
Addict. This word does not define anything other than a broad umbrella for someone going through a particular illness. Without a greater understanding of what the illness is, the word addict offers no purpose other than to degrade.
Ethnic slurs used to refer to people or groups in a critical and disrespectful manner.
Religious terms can be used to insult, disapprove of, degrade or criticise other people’s beliefs.
Sexist labels of any kind. For example calling someone a slut as an offensive way to belittle and put down a woman (or sometimes man).
Terms that judge sexuality, for example, “tranny,” which is a shortened term for transgender and is a derogatory way to put someone down rather than to describe someone whose binary gender identity is opposite to the assigned sex.
There is a big difference between labels necessary for support and guidance, ones that people choose to identify with, ones that classify an illness or particular group and those labels and slurs that have the sole intention of being discriminatory by using derogatory, ignorant and hurtful words.
Derogatory terms should never be used to label a person or group. When we fully realise we are actually all very similar underneath, we will see how entirely ironic, superior and elitist it is to judge or discriminate against anyone who we perceive as slightly different from ourselves.
As, overall, the difference is minuscule with recent studies showing all humans are actually 99.9 percent identical to one another, with only very tiny variations in our DNA.
Labels are not all encompassing, they will never fully describe the complex matter that makes up a human being, therefore, people should be free to identify with with whatever label they choose without discrimination, as a label will never capture the whole essence of someone’s soul.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Scott McLeod