Looking Past Labels

We are living in a time when labels are becoming more important than relationship and understanding. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Atheist. White, black, hispanic, asian, Native American, or indigenous? Straight or Gay? Republican or Democrat? These lists are far from exhaustive, but they demonstrate the ways we have insisted on labeling ourselves and others. These labels wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but the ways we’ve been utilizing them have become extremely problematic. Every aspect of our lives have become so polarized, that we have begun prejudging people we don’t know at all based on such labels. There are some who condemn others purely based upon another’s religion. There are some who judge the worth of others based on race or ethnicity. There are some who judge the morality of others based on sexual orientation. And there are some who judge the compassion of others based on political affiliation. We’ve grown so dependent upon these labels that we don’t even bother trying to get to know someone before making judgements against them.

We often don’t think to consider the fact that each individual person, no matter what labels we give them or they give themselves, is unique and diverse. No one characteristic can completely reflect a person’s values, personality, hopes, and dreams. Yet when we hear that person is an X, whatever X may be, we suddenly feel we have enough information to make judgements against that person–based purely on one simple piece of information. Yet there is such diversity amongst people of any label, the labels are essentially meaningless. We cannot truly know a person based on their religion, race or nationality, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or any other such label. And by operating as if we can we are doing others, and ourselves, a disservice. Because when we choose to live within a bubble and only associate with certain people, we’re limiting our opportunity to learn and grow. We’re limiting our opportunity to gain understanding about viewpoints different than our own. And we’re alienating others and treating them as less-than in the process. And so we continue to live in our bubbles, ensuring our erroneous views towards others are reinforced and our own experiences are limited.

The good news is, we do not have to continue to judge others in these ways. We can choose to make a concerted effort to get to know people who fit in with labels we have prejudged–to seek to gain a better understanding of those who believe, or look, or live, or vote differently than we do. Only by no longer reducing others to simple labels can we break the cycle of knee-jerk judgement and alienation of others that we have created. Let us no longer look at others as the labels we give them or even those they choose, but instead look at each person as an individual–and individual with thoughts, values, fears, and hopes. In this way we can work towards greater understanding and reconciliation.