Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Labeling leads to libeling...

Recently a friend of mine wrote something about someone I knew that was simply untrue. I think the root of the problem was labeling. My friend categorized the person and then judged the person by that category, not realizing that person didn't fit into that category quite as precisely as one would expect.
Labeling leads to libeling (say that 5 times fast!).
Why do we label people? Well, we usually have good reason. Categorizing is something our minds do all on their own; without that kind of organization, we would probably go crazy. This person goes under the family file, this person is a sort-of friend, this person is a close friend. This person is a literature geek, this person loves fashion, this person is married, this person is single.
What bothers me is that, to the world at large, certain labels have certain subtitles that somehow get generally associated with them: This person is a literature geek (therefore he would rather be bitten by a real vampire than read Twilight), this person loves fashion (therefore she is shallow and has no brain), this person is married (therefore she is miserable), this person is single (therefore he is miserable). Why do we make assumptions based on people's labels? Especially assumptions that are rarely true?
I am a Christian. That does not mean I am a Bible-thumper-- whatever that even means. (Actually, though, thumping a Bible, or any other heavy book, with one's hand can be very fun, especially if done to a rhythm. I suggest you try it. Thumping someone else on the head with a Bible or another heavy book can also be fun, but not for the someone else, so I don't suggest you try that, unless they really need it, of course.)
Politically, I tend to be conservative (actually, I'm more libertarian, but I'll try not to get too deep in the politics right now). However, I also care--deeply-- about poor people (GASP!). I also write poetry, play the guitar, wear 60's-style clothes, eat organic food, and drive a Subaru. Yeah, I guess I'm just really undercover...
I'm married, but I'm deeply in love.
I'm a mom, but I like to do things without my kids and can talk about things other than my kids. (Or, conversely, I'm a mom, but I enjoy being with my kids and love my life!)
I was home-schooled, but I had a social life.
The list goes on and on.
What do you feel your labels are, and how do you think they libel you? Is there a "subtitle" or "fine print" that you feel people automatically apply to you when you say, "Well, I'm a middle child..." whether it's true or not?
If so, what do you think should be done about it? I find that just telling people not to label, stereotype, or make generalizations, doesn't work. Like I said earlier, I think our minds are hardwired that way. But having people automatically judge you by an imaginary connection to your category can, at best, annoy, and at worst, destroy your relationship. So, how do you keep the label from becoming libel?
I have my own way of dealing with it (most people do), but I'm not sure it's the best. I'd like to hear what my readers (if anyone's reading this) have to say.


  1. Wow!:)
    I would be labeled a literature geek.

  2. I'm a stay-at-home-mother but I'm not bored or frumpy. :)

    I'm an English major but I'm not the grammar police.

  3. Good points to ponder, Rebecca. I am sure we have all had this happen to us at one time or another and most likely we have done it to others (most often unknowingly). I have had this done to me and I know it can be hurtful. I have also figured out that I cannot control all of the opinions that others form of me. My best way to deal with it, is to know who I am in Christ, be open to constructive criticism, and after that, forgive seven times seventy...knowing we will have plenty of opportunity to misunderstand and offend one another (even when we have good intentions). I heard a man sharing the other day about how we judge ourselves by our intentions and we judge others by their actions. I thought that was good. We must stop and take a look at the intentions of others and often we will find the grace to overlook their offense....and for those with evil intentions, well...forgiveness still applies. =)

    As far as me labeling others....I hope to treat them the way I want to be treated.

    Donna, I am so thankful you are not the grammar police! Hahaha!

  4. I might label people more than I realize. I don't really treat any person different from another, beyond how comfortable I am with the person, and I will usually only ever confront someone if I see them mistreating someone else.
    As of yet, I don't think that anyone has labeled me as a libeler, or libeled me for a labeler even. I might get labeled as socially inept sometimes, and other times my quietness might get me labeled as proud. Other than that, I haven't really been the type to fit a lot labels...
    Do you know of anything I might get labeled as without knowing?

  5. Mom: Those are some really good points! I know I didn't touch on the importance of not allowing ourselves to make wrong assumptions about others based on our labels of them; that just seemed obvious, haha. After all, if we don't like it when people do it to us, we should certainly strive not to do it to anyone else! Also, the blog entry was already getting too long, haha.
    I really loved your quote about intentions vs. actions. Not judging others by their actions until we know their intentions is so important! Even if their intentions aren't good either, though, like you said, forgiveness is important.
    Hearth-dweller: Your label: You are tall, therefore you must play basketball. :D In all seriousness, though, whether people would give you other labels with subtitles would depend on how well they knew you. If someone knew that you were a boy and 17 (almost 18), but knew nothing else about you, they'd probably envision an average teenage guy, which you most certainly are not!

  6. Those are very good pionts from everyone!