Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Labels

Hello fellow Human Beings (and all other manners of creatures who may one day read this blog - cats are very clever, y'know)! My post today is apparently a deep one so go grab a hot chocolate and prepare for some major brain food. 

Welcome to my little look at labels. "What's that?" you may ask! Well, I was having a chat with a friend the other day about labeling ourselves - she saw them in a positive light and I saw them in a negative way so I figured it was due some further exploration. To do this I have asked some of my lovely family and friends to give me their views on the matter so that I, as well as you, could see the many sides of the argument. When looking into this it's also important to remember that there are different sorts of labels - people label looks, medical conditions, behaviours and sexuality (to name only a few). Right. On with our first view....

"I think that most people will try and convince themselves/others that they believe labeling people is wrong and that we should be completely free to make our own decisions and be our own person because that's what everyone seems to always be banging on about these days. In reality, I think that labels are kind of necessary to an extent because they make people easier to identify, so I can describe someone using a label and most people will know what I'm talking about. I do think it's important to be labeled in terms of other people being able to understand you, but equally I think it's wrong to use labels to define someone in their entirety."
This really made me think about labels in the way they are used. For example, instead of somebody saying "I believe in God who wrote the 10 commandments thousands of years ago, led many people to the promised land and later sent his son, Jesus, down to Earth as a baby, born of a virgin called Mary. When Jesus was 33 he got crucified and was put in a tomb and rose 3 days later. I celebrate Easter and Christmas and partake in practices such as prayer and Bible reading." it's a lot easier to just go "I'm a Christian" and have done with it. Due to common knowledge using that label (and yes, it is a label) immediately lets people know what your views are based on and cuts out the waffle.

"I think the most important thing on that one is behaving in the way that brings you most joy; the label should be irrelevant if you're truly happy with who you are and being true to yourself. Especially in childhood, a 'tomboyish' sense of adventure is such a valuable thing, but doesn't negate the enjoyment that can be found from more stereotypically 'girly' activities like experimenting with makeup- I certainly did both!"
I have often thought about the labels of young children - girls are often thought to be girly or tomboyish and I spent much of my primary school life trying to work out which one I was. I used to climb trees on a weekly basis, go down to river and attempt to catch fish with my hands (this was regularly very unsuccessful) and hanging around with the guys of my class. I also used to love dancing and singing, skipping around the playground, chatting about Girls Aloud and putting on my own fashion shows. You may, as I do, see all of these activities as if they do not fit into a category - that boys and girls can do any of these things. However, it cannot be denied that those activities do fit into those stereotypes which have undoubtedly established themselves in society.
Going back to this quote more directly, I agree that as long as you are happy, the label should not be relevant - but does that mean that if you are unhappy, you should try and fit into a category in an attempt to find a comfortable place? I don't expect you to answer that - it was rhetorical :P

Another thing to think about is whether or not labels stop you from being who you truly are. I personally think this depends on the person - ones personality may perfectly fit into, for instance, the "flamboyant homosexual" category that society had provided us. In this case the label is not stopping the person from being who they are, but instead describing it. On the other hand, a homosexual woman may feel pressured to either be a "butch" or "lipstick lesbian", changing their looks and personality traits to fit these labels. In this case, due to the woman feeling as though she has to fit into a category, is that stopping her from just accepting her true self, or is it her just finding out who she really is?

Labels are developing everywhere - not only in social situations, but also in technology, medicine, psychology and sociology. My next opinion links labels with the medical profession:
"Labels within the medical profession are arguably the only means by which people can get the treatment they need; without defined diagnostic criteria, the logistics of treatment for the vast majority of conditions would be impossible to manage." Correct. Although we may not always think about it in this way, labels are used every single day in the medical profession to diagnose illnesses. Anyway, let us continue... "However, the problems arise when people begin to find their identities as a characteristic that describes their 'weakness' (even if this is often only self-perceived) or suffering. Particularly when conditions such as Autism or ASD are concerned, a system without labels would perhaps be more conducive to a society in which individuals are defined by their strengths, and thus held in far greater esteem, both by their peers and themselves." I really appreciate this view, as it is not something I've ever really been about to put into words and here it is put so simply. It is not the label itself that is the problem, but rather the way that it is perceived. If a label has negative connotations, people will feel negative about those who have that label applied to them. I'm going to use dyslexia to expand on this: I have a couple of dyslexic friends - one of them hates the fact that people know them as having dyslexia. They feel that it suggests that they are slow, dumb and awkward to deal with. My other friend, however, has said to me that using the word 'dyslexia' to be able to describe themselves makes their life easier, it helps people to understand the difficulties they face and that they understand that everyone has something that sets them apart from everyone else. Maybe labels are okay - we just need to stop using them as tools to judge people with.

This brings me on to labels being used to judge. It is true, is it not, that we have all used a label to describe somebody after meeting them for the first time? Everyone has, because we are human, analysing people when we first meet them to try and understand their qualities and quirks. Here is a view about labels being used to judge:
"I don't like labels. I think that often you are labelled by others before they have actually had a chance to get to know you. Labels often come about pretty instantly on first meeting. A lot of people will then never get past that." This is so true. There's some saying that the first impression is really important - just think about interviews. People who attend an interview for a place on a course or for a job think about what they are going to wear, and how they answer questions. When filling out forms or surveys people often do not put down their religion or sexuality because they feel they could get judged on it - which they could be. Open minds, people. Open minds...

And finally, what about labeling ourselves? This is what I was initially thinking about in my discussion with my friend the other day - I personally make the conscious decision to avoid labeling myself. I hate the thought that if I label myself as something, people are going to see me as only that - what if I change as life continues? Surely people will then think I'm something I'm not... Plus, everyone interprets labels in different ways so where is there a universal understanding anyway?
Before I waffle too much, here is someone else's view on this...
"With regard to labeling myself, I try not to. Because I think it can hold you back from being what you want to be. Does this make sense? So I guess I could label myself as [something that] I don't want to be. But if I believe my label, I might never strive to be what I want to be. I guess equally throughout life what you are and the way you are changes so much. If your labelled as 'x' you might never feel you can change to 'y' because that's not who you are. But who says you can't change?"
Do you agree? If you were to label yourself as something, would that prevent you from seeing the possibility of change? As the closing question of that says, there is no reason why people cannot change their labels, but I suppose it depends on the person - some people would feel more confident to go against their labels and others would feel uncomfortable if they did that. Are there any labels you have which you don't like? What says you can't change them?

To finish up, I'd like to conclude with this view which I think sums everything up in a pretty good way - it works for some and not for others so do whatever makes you happiest:
"I would have to sit on the fence on this one, to some people the label gives them a sense of belonging and understanding who they are, it makes them feel comfortable in knowing there are others like them. To others the label is something that others put on them and they don't like it. So overall I would say if you label yourself you are probably happy with it, if others label you then you probably won't like it."

Thank you so much for bearing with me on this one. I know it was long, and if you have managed to stay with me all the way down to here, I really appreciate it. Writing a blog post on such a vast topic is actually a lot more difficult that it first appeared! I'd like to thank those of you who contributed and I'd also like to encourage people who feel like they have something else to say or people who agree with a certain point to comment below - I'm so interested to hear all of your views. There's also a poll to your left where you can feedback too :)
I hope this post has made you think a little and made you consider your own views on labels alongside those which I have included in this article. If you have a label you're not comfortable with and can do something about it - do. You have that ability.

Have a lovely week, and thank you again for keeping up with my blog!
Sarah