you and me

Take a Moment Before You Apply Labels.

Inherently, labels are good things. Their purpose is to inform us, to provide us with useful information, or to warn us.

Imagine leaning against a wall that was just painted but it wasn’t labeled, Fresh Paint, and now you just ruined your favorite t-shirt! Perfect example of what a label is for: to relay clear, unambiguous information. From this perspective, I don’t think anyone could argue that labels are not good things.

However, I’m willing to bet that at one time or another, we’ve all been labeled something, or labeled someone else something, that wasn’t accurate, and quite possibly, hurtful.

We walk around wearing our human bodies that, for the most part, look just like everyone else’s. But what’s going on underneath is anybody’s guess. And sometimes, we’re the ones guessing about ourselves. We take one look at someone and immediately we’re classifying, judging, and applying labels to another human being. Based on what? What our eyes see? What society or the media tells us we’re seeing?

We think we can tell someone’s political affiliation by the car they drive or where they live. We see the young black kid in a hoodie and label him a criminal. We see the male cross-dresser and label him a freak. We see the awkward girl sitting by herself and label her a loser. We see the boy who was born female but is expressing himself as male and label him gender dysphoric. We see the manly man and assume he’s straight.

And exactly who are these labels for? Do they serve any purpose? Do they accurately paint the whole picture of the individual? If they do serve a purpose, I think it’s a self- serving purpose. It serves the purpose of protecting what we perceive as normal or acceptable. Why are we so threatened by anyone who is different from us? Is that what it is? Fear?

Perhaps it’s not fear at all. Perhaps it’s envy. Even if we don’t care for the way another person presents themselves, the reality that some may be more in touch with their authentic self, and feel the freedom to express their uniqueness, makes us feel envious. Maybe we wish that we had the courage to do the same.

Sometimes, we’re too caught up in presenting ourselves as what we know we’re not, especially if we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Rather than presuming, assuming, judging, and labeling someone, why don’t we try to be more tolerant, curious, and compassionate? In my experience, tolerance, curiosity, and compassion lead to trust and understanding.

If there’s anything a person who is struggling with their orientation, with the stigma that goes hand in hand with depression, with being discriminated against in any way, needs, it’s to be able to feel understood. No one should have to compartmentalize their true self in order to appease the masses.

No one should have to sacrifice their authenticity out of worry of making others uncomfortable because they don’t approve of your lifestyle.

Labeling things is okay, and often necessary. Labeling people is not. I can only hope that before we are about to label another person, we take a moment to realize that there is one label that defines us all: Human.

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Jennifer Schaeffer is a word-lover and writer at heart. She especially enjoys writing haiku, but not your ordinary 5/7/5 syllable poem about nature. She finds it quite challenging to capture and convey raw, deep human emotions, and mold it into the 5/7/5 syllable format. She also finds it incredibly satisfying. Jennifer is on a path of self-discovery, deviating from the path that has been laid out before her, courtesy of society. She is well on her way.

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