Labels Are Troublesome

We humans are for the most part, joiners. What? You're not a joiner? No book clubs, social clubs, not even a professional organization or union? Ok, maybe not.

Maybe I should say it this way: we humans feel more comfortable as birds of a feather. No matter how one puts it, I suggest we are too much into labeling ourselves. And then allowing these self applied or accepted labels to define, if not our thoughts, at least our actions.

Here are some broad and simple labels many of us wear: wine drinker, sports fan, rock climber, story teller, public speaker, collector of any number of things and so on. Some of us go even farther and choose more specific labels.

To illustrate, I might be a sports fan. Yet my two favorite sports are baseball and football. As such, I could label myself a baseball fan and a football fan.

My friend might label herself a soccer fan. She might invite me to a soccer game, to which I might say no thank you, I'm a football fan. Being a football fan makes me comfortable. I might be sure I wouldn't enjoy soccer or I may not want to run the risk that I might indeed like it; maybe even more than I do football.

This is just one way we let our labels define our thinking and our actions.

Things can get even more interesting when we further define our labels. For example two new friends are delighted to discover they are both sports fans. Better yet, both are baseball fans. Yet a hint of tension and doubt creeps between them when one declares himself a Red Sox fan and the other a Yankees fan. Things take a turn for the worse when one also confesses that she is a fan of pro wrestling and by the way, many uniformed persons actually think it is staged!

The labels we choose not only define and limit us; they also divide us. Even regarding the seemingly trivial ones we use to define our favorite hobbies and pastimes.

More important are those labels dealing with our profession, our religious preference or non-preference, our ethnic background, our political affiliation or non-affiliation, our sexual orientation and so on.

In short, killings, mass torture and even all out wars have been fought over mans and womans intolerance of each others assumed labels. This is why we are taught that the best we can hope for is tolerance and respect for people of different labels!

Some spiritual, philosophical and/or ethical minded mentors further teach that so long as a person of different label isn't doing themselves or others serious harm, we should allow them the freedom to adhering to whichever labels they may choose. And therein we find the rub. Many of us honestly do indeed believe, for example, that those of "other"religious faiths are indeed harming themselves and their chance at winning eternal salvation.

This is why showing tolerance for people of different labels is tricky business at best. No matter how hard we try, fear and insecurity always seems to get in the way of equal label rights for all.

There is, however, an even darker side to the labeling instinct we all apparently inherited as a part of our nature. While we do find comfort in being birds of a feather, we also gain a great sense of security by gathering together in flocks like sheep. Hence the old saying, "birds of a feather, flock together".

Everyone knows that sheep are the inventors of a game called "follow the leader"! It's true, sheep will blindly go anywhere and do anything based entirely on the example provided by their leader. And the masses of people appear to be no different.

The question I have for you is this: Are you content to trudge along with the rest of the flock, or would you prefer to soar with the eagles, free to go where you will and sample as much of what life has to offer as you possibly can?

Most of us are so deeply embedded within the flock we've lost the knack for individual thought. Like sheep we tread onward, blindly following the lead of other sheep who are just as blind. Such silly, sad birds we are to have lost our wings and with them the great and glorious gift of flight!

By labeling ourselves we limit ourselves. By choosing to follow the path others have endlessly followed, we end up traveling just as hard, yet forever remain is the same place.

Happily, there have always been those special few persons among the human family at any given point in time who choose to reject all labels. Instead, they place upon their brow a question mark etched in blood.

They pay little attention to the well worn trails traveled by the masses. Instead they break new ground and often go where others have feared to tread. Their minds are wide open seas fed by rivers of knowledge flowing from the past, the present and the future.

Their lives are too large for labels. They savor and rejoice in the understanding that comes with each and every day lived to its fullest extent. New experiences are the spice of life. Why call yourself a wine drinker when tomorrow you may decide beer is just the best thing for the moment at hand?

Why bother labeling yourself at all when who knows what the morrow will bring? Isn't it time we all begin rejecting the endless labels our peers seem bent upon smothering us under?

All humanity is one family. The boundaries that separate us are all merely illusionary labels. When we view the Earth from far above, we see no states or countries. Conflicts among peoples and among nations will continue so long as we persist in labeling ourselves and in choosing leaders who call for the sacrifice of life and limb in defense of those labels.

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