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What's In A Label?

In a multitude of ways, people are being socially divided from one another and hindered from connecting with each other. There is one single overwhelming culprit in this social tragedy occurring across the world. What simple but prevalent thing could be causing this widespread social segregation? The answer is simple. It is the language, specifically the labels, used to describe people.

These labels run literally the full spectrum of our realities and perceptions. Supposedly helping to define who people are, these labels being used only encourage the subgrouping of ourselves, isolating individuals from each other when they are not in a labeled subgroup.

Everything from a person's nationality down to their neighborhood of residence breaks us into labeled cliques; from religious beliefs to political parties, everything separates individuals into smaller and smaller groups. Race, culture, occupations, salaries, education, consumer product usage, and more are wrongly used by people to define themselves and others.

The act of labeling someone breaks down a complex individual into some simple core characteristics, reducing their nature in terms of how they are perceived. People are not simply a list of easily applied labels that are used to define them; they are the sum total of their life experiences, not simply a list of quantified terms. Labeling others puts blinders on other aspects that are not seen due to the labels being applied.

Labels tend to be grouped into categories, with people inferring that if someone fits one label, they are likely to fit a similar label as well. Someone labeled as arrogant might just as easily, by perception, be inferred to be possibly narcissistic or self-centered as well. It is a sort of guilt by association for having been labeled as something from another's viewpoint.

The descriptors used as labels are purely subjective to the person doing the labeling, as different people see things from different perspectives. Labels are solely based on what an individual is perceived to be by another, and this varies from individual to individual with wide differences at times. A good example of this is the variety of descriptions law enforcement officers receive at a crime scene from witnesses, which widely vary based on personal outlook.

Once a person is labeled, often it is overlooked that the individual has grown and changed while all that is seen is the original label. An individual may be known for a length of time, but due to labels, changes and growth are often missed due to the shroud of the label hiding them. It is often assumed that once they have a certain label, they always have that label.

Labels can even potentially be self-fulfilling if individuals hear a label being repeatedly applied to themselves. This becomes apparent when labels like "stupid" are applied to people often enough that they begin to believe them and act accordingly. This type of labeling is especially harmful as it is abusive in a fundamental sense as well.

Reducing individuals to labels often creates a friend vs. foe dynamic in relating to them that may only be based on difference of opinion in a matter such as politics, religion, or sexuality. This situation invites the use of disdainful or even vulgar language when communicating about any given label, whether in person or over social media. This is experienced frequently, for example, in the political arena between members of opposing parties.

When labeling ourselves, even in a "good" way, a sense of superiority may be gained over others not under the same designation because they are not equal in labeling. People feel that because they are a certain label and that because others are not that same one also then they are inferior in some manner. A prime example of this behavior is exemplified in the well-known literary classic by Theodor Geisel, "The Star-Bellied Sneetches."

Once a person has been negatively labeled, people often give themselves tacit permission to treat the labeled people more poorly than others. It is felt that because some labels are bad or of lesser repute, poor treatment is permissible. Many individuals in the hospitality, food and beverage, and other industries face this poorer treatment on a daily basis.

False outlooks and assumptions begin to form once a label is applied to an individual, affecting how actions and reactions are expected from that person. Once a label is applied to a person, we view them through the label filter, changing our perspective of what is actually being seen. The "grumpy" individual is viewed as grumpy and expected to react in a grumpy manner regardless of any current circumstances.

Even positive labels can backfire, putting undue strain on individuals to meet the expectations of what they have been labeled. "Clever" or "beautiful" people can feel pressured and obligated to live up to the labels, causing undue stress issues. Likewise, they can feel depressed and unworthy, doubting their own worth, if they do not think they are meeting the label standard.

The way labels are used and employed only promote separation, segregation, and isolation from each other, even when standing shoulder to shoulder within the world we live in. People are no longer seen with the compassion due to a person, but with the sterility and consequences of the assigned label. The basic way that people around the world are perceived and viewed needs to shift from the current labels used.

The labeling perceptions of the world's citizens only promote more division and difficulty, from national leaders down to the average 9-to-5 worker attempting to make ends meet. One political group against another, one religion vs. another, or one sexual orientation against another—this labeling is causing much more division and strife than it eases how people are easily viewed by others.

Life is not easy, and the attempt to make it so with labeling is only making the world's social situation worse. A fundamental reevaluation of how people perceive others, from individuals to nations, is needed if the division, strife, and social dysfunction being faced worldwide are to be overcome for the betterment of all humanity.

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Tags: peace religion conflict culture society politics psychology race perception sociology division viewpoint nationality


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