Why Label Ourselves?

A friend blogged yesterday Label: To Be or Not to Be. Why do we label ourselves? My simple retort is because that's what I am. I've worked hard to uncover my identity and I'm proud of who/what I'm. The same person--who tells me she doesn't understand labels--drives a Mercedes, carries a Kate Spade bag, calls herself a vegan, and a "churchgoing Lutheran". While there is nothing wrong with these things (if that's what you choose), you would also have to realize the use of labels here. They are being used to distinguish who she is or as the person whom she likes others to perceive her.

To live in a social context, you have to adhere to labels; even if you do not associate with such, even for those who live outside a social circle--such as the hermit or hobo--others still label them and thus they become that label either through need or circumstance. Labeling is a necessary device that allows tribal groups to exist in harmony and we are all still tribal creatures.

Through the years, I notice how people get hung up on words and often bar themselves from something later served them because they didn’t like the word attached to it. I recalled conversations with fellow homeschooling parents who perceived themselves as disorganized, not creative/resourceful--than me--although we mingled in the same circle, followed similar approaches, and share similar visions for our children and for our lives. Our conversations turned to an identity issue.

Because I am a christian first, I feel I am spiritually connected to my personal savior. My faith gives me a sense of my past, a foundation of spiritual history, (if not always) literal history, to help me gain better understanding of 1) where I am now in relation to the world and 2) where next adventure will lead me.

I choose to label myself...so I create the label rather than let others label me. When you are the one to set the terms, you've the first opportunity to explain the meaning of the word and the context you are using it, even if it’s a very emotionally “loaded” word, like "radical". When you tell someone you are a radical something, you'll sure catch one's attention and define it. While there are many who would automatically close down to any explanation of the word and use their often erroneous assumptions, I still find it easier to start the conversation with a label, a word, than no label at all and try to vaguely explain what I do in a politically correct approach.

Socially, it gives me a sub culture to belong to, to explore my tradition and those who are drawn to it. Be it a small unschooling community of a growing area, you have parents who walk a similar path and can understand and empathize with the challenges and joys. Those who identify as an unschooler usually have experiences that make them feel they are on the edge of our society. Artists all walk the edge and usually find that perspective helpful in their spiritual work, empowering rather than debilitating. We don’t necessarily want to fit in to the mainstream. As a social group, a tradition has more social and political power--and can be taken more seriously when attempting to challenge unfair laws and social policies. Not having a label makes it hard to organize or present your community needs to others.

Searching for identity is a large part of the spiritual adventure. If we look to elements around us, each represents a journey and a quest--let it be for compassion, love, truth, sovereignty--to rule our life and its resources, identity--who we are through what we do, what we are passionate about in the world. Identity is always evolving as we move through lifecycle.

Though I’m a christian, I know that it’s one of many labels that may be used to describe me. I’m a woman. I’m an asian-decend. I’m height-challenged. I’m creative. I’m a musician. I'm a knitter. I'm a crafter. I'm a bowler. I'm a tennis player. I'm a hiker. I'm a GREEN & WORLD PEACE activist. I'm a child lobbyist. I’m stubborn. I'm defiant. I'm a lifetime learner. Some of these labels change and some don’t. Some are like clothing and my taste in clothings change. Others are a part of my core. They are from the perspective of this life and time.

Identities are words that help me in my life journey and unite me with those who are similar to me and may share in my experience. One is not more spiritual or less spiritual because they use an identity or abandon an identity. Each of us has an unique path to walk. If labels work for you, then use them. If they don’t work for you, don’t use them. If a particularly label stops working for you, then stop using it. There are no hard and fast rules on the quest for identity. Like all things, use what works best for you and don’t worry about what other people think.

A few months ago, USA Today had an article on cultural ettiquette and how Americans were not very versed in this area. One of the things that caught my eye was in Argentina it is considered rude to ask someone what he/she does for a living. When I thought about the reason why, may be it is because we are much more complex than any one label may define us. It is too my personal experience that most people who have met me would merely jump to conclusions as to who I was, what I liked, or how I thought when they found out one tidbit of information...such as my degrees, my occupation, the make of car I drive, or any other thing they noticed. It's my frustration that we live in a fast-paced era and very few people wish to take the time to really get to know another person as an individual.

Ok.....I think I've said enough. Time to get my unflattering bottom up and moving!

3 encouragements:

Stephanie said...

Very interesting thoughts! I am torn with labels, I think it may be for the sake of identifying oneself that a label can be useful. I guess I hate labels when it comes to behavior(ADD) but labels work in finding others like RU'ers. I'll have to think about this some more and figure out how I really feel.

Makita said...

Wow! I certainly didn't expect to spark so much ... my post was just a random thought. Your response is so much more thought out, more eloquent. :)

Grace Walker said...

This is a wonderful post, with lots to think about.

Thanks!
Sheryl

True learning-learning that is permanent and useful,that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner.
John Holt
Real heroes are men who fall, fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they stayed true to their ideals, beliefs and commitments.
Actor Kevin Costner
 

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