Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

The Problem With Labels

Labels are Language: Everything we know has a label — which is a function of language. We seem to want to apply a word to everything so we can communicate to each other what we are talking about. Your name is a label. “Man” or “Woman” is a label, although the lines are starting to become blurred about those labels. “Mom” or “Dad” are labels. We think of ourselves with labels. For most people labels can evoke strong emotional responses when they hear the word, especially when there is some trauma associated with the label. For example, “Mom” or “Dad” is a comforting and loving word for people who had healthy families and childhoods, but for people who experienced abuse and trauma, those words evoke strong negative emotions.

Negative Labels: Some obvious negative connotations are associated with labels that are words which are politically incorrect. Any word that is a racial, ethnic, gender, age or intelligence epithet are especially insulting for some, but not all, people. Historically, “leper” was a divisive word that could get you killed. Modern science has removed the stigma from that term, at least in industrialized countries. Labels simply tend to separate us from others and tend to isolate us from each other. What ever happened to “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?

Symbolic Labels: Growing up in the South in the 50’s and 60’s was particularly traumatic for many people, regardless of their racial status. Any label associated with those issues are still degrading and inflammatory. Even labels that aren’t even words have become inflammatory, such as statues, symbols, portraits, clothing and lapel pins. It is the debate of our time. Ironically, people who are not subject to any particular label have identified with the issue and made it their own.

Political and Religious Labels: Now we are dealing with political and religious labels on a level we have not experienced before. Political labels are splitting families, friends, cities, states and a nation. It is a civil war which people don’t even recognize as a civil war. Are you “republican” or a “democrat”? Are you “Christian” or “Muslim”? Are you “Conservative” or “Antifa”? Are you a “criminal” or a “revolutionary”? Labels are splitting us apart.

Labels Are an Illusion: Here is the truth…labels are an illusion. Language is the problem because we use language to separate ourselves from each other. The great debate these days is “who is inclusive and who is divisive”? We all are divisive because we insist on comparing ourselves to each other. We subconsciously try to make ourselves better than each other and accusing others of being less than ourselves. We have been trained since birth to do this. That is what grading does to us.

Remove Labels and Seek the Truth: We need to start looking at how we are alike instead of focusing on how we are different. I pose a question: “What if we remove the labels of Muslim from immigrants”? I know lots of people who are Muslim that are not threats to anybody. I know lots of Christians that could be a problem. The religion is not the problem, it is the politics. The greed and violence of the East is matched by the greed and the violence of the West. Why do we have to kill to get what we want? This is our cultural heritage that must be changed.

Without labels we are just people: I am Buddhist by nature, Christian by heritage and Hindu by intellect. I have a Bible and the Mahabharata for reference materials.  I prefer to let people be whoever they want if they don’t hurt anyone. There is a proverb that in the West, when we see someone beating a horse we stop them for the horse’s sake. In the East, we stop them for their sake. We need to stop terrorists because we have compassion for the terrorists and their families, not to punish them. It is true that killing and maiming others will cause great hatred and separation of peoples. The problem is karma is real and labels will bite your ass. If we are going to unify ourselves, we need to start take responsibility for our behavior as well as judging others. Anyone who uses violence to justify their labels should be stopped for their own sake.

Reprinted from SivanaSpirit.com magazine: see more