I have thought a lot over the years about labels that we as people give ourselves. I have talked extensively to my kids about not labeling themselves, or at least keeping the most important label, the most important one. Recently I was listening to a young adult broadcast that my Church did in which the prophet for my Church talked about labeling as well. This brought to mind all the years of pondering on this subject that I have done, so I thought I would share my thought about it here. You can also watch or listen to the broadcast here.
We put labels on so many things, just as the quote above – we label jars. We also label streets, businesses, schools, countries, etc. All of these labels are necessary and help us find locations or things we are looking for. Can you imagine buying cans of food with no labels on them! That would be an interesting treasure hunt at dinner time. You would either end up with a really great meal, or a complete disaster.
As humans however, we tend to also label ourselves and others. I am not saying that we shouldn’t, I believe there is one label that we all should maintain as our first and most important label. But other labels don’t really describe any one person fully. However, there are labels that are necessary. Doctor for instance is a label that helps describe a person who we can go to when we are ailing. Those labels even have sub labels. We wouldn’t go see a foot doctor to help relieve ear pain. But the person who is labeled doctor isn’t just a doctor. I know several doctors who are spouses, parents, grandparents, runners, hikers, members of the military, Church goers, service oriented, and participates in community activities and support events and activities in a variety of fields.
In this broadcast (link above), I gained a new about labels. President Nelson commented on how restrictive labels are. That was a new angle of perspective for me. I have always told my kids don’t label yourself with one exception, but I never really discussed why. When we label ourselves or are labeled by others a certain perception is automatically formed. Each one of us has a personal perception of various words used as labels. If I were to say Democrat or Republican, classifying an individual, each one of us would immediately classify that person in our mind, without ever even getting to know that person. In some instances, we would be drawn to that person, wanting to get to know them better. In other instances, we would be instantly on guard, watching that person’s every move, looking for some justification for our feelings toward them, for our judgement.
This world likes to place labels on everything, especially people. We judge people based on those labels, and we have become a nation, a world, divided based upon labels. Because with those labels comes animosity toward others, it doesn’t have to create animosity, but that seems to be the direction a lot of labels end up taking us. The judgements we make create emotions that may or may not be valid. And those emotions, often anger or hate with many of the more common labels today, tend to propel us forward to do things we might not otherwise do. But there is a solution!
The only label, and the most universal label that exists is Child of God. What if we saw others as children of God, just like ourselves? What would change about our behavior towards them? What if we saw every person we met as someone important to God, including ourselves? Would that change how we treat them? Would we be more inclined to listen first rather than judge? What if every human life held the same value and had the same opportunity to contribute? I am not saying that you shouldn’t listen to your gut in sketchy situations. Everyone is a child of God, but some people are not out to talk and be kind. But the vast majority of people out there just want to be seen, listened to, and valued. Whether we agree on every subject or not we can always find common ground if we look for it. That common ground starts with the biggest label we should all carry – Child of God.
I have thought a long time about labeling, and I try hard not to label, but I know that as I hear certain words or phrases associated with people I tend to judge based upon that label. So, this week I will be paying attention to the emotions that certain labeling words creates in me. I want to stop judging people based upon labels and try harder to listen and get to know the real person rather than the label.