(my take on the tenth part of 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy)
I’m not so sure labels are in themselves the problem. Like any young child, I learned to label the world around me in order to understand and to navigate things and places which were sometimes not safe. Any person who cannot name her world is at a terrific disadvantage.
The abuse of labels – now that is a different story. Understanding that naming this world also means that my naming scheme is not comprehensive and in constant need of tweaking is critical to human education. Insisting that my naming scheme is not only comprehensive but absolute, even divinely mandated, is an abuse of the gift I was given as a human being.
Abusive labels pop up in some surprising places (to me, anyway). I was surprised to learn, for instance, that certain radical feminists insist that I cannot be a woman. I will be forever labeled as a “man in a dress”, a gender saboteur of the worst stripe of oppressive class, a variation on the same theme I would have expected from certain politicians who have absolutely nothing in common with radical feminism. At best, I cannot be trusted.
When I casually mention that I am a former Baptist minister, that label carries such strong cultural connotations that people often do not hear that I became a Baptist because historically Baptists (as well as Quakers) were strong on the priesthood of all believers and religious liberty. Baptists in Massachusetts went to jail because they refused to pay taxes in support of the Congregational church. They also went to jail when they did not baptize their infant children. Abuse of labels works hand in hand with misunderstanding stereotypes and cultural mythology. Abuse of labels leads me down a path which can well end in powerful falsehood.
Using labels is a lot like handling dynamite – a great tool if you’re trying to get a boulder out of the pasture, not so great if you’re throwing a stick over the side of the boat to catch fish (yes, I’m a fan of Crocodile Dundee). Handle labels with great caution and give up the abuse of labels. It will make living a whole lot more effective and pleasant.