Hi, I’m David and I’m an alcoholic. Hi, I’m David, I’m a runner. Hi, I’m David, I’m a __________ fill in the blank. So are labels helpful? Are they meaningful in any sense? To what extent are they destructive, divisive or alienating? I’ve wondered many times. Labeling ourselves sometimes allows us to forge solidarity with other like-minded individuals. But by so doing, this can separate us from those who may have a disparate opinion or world view.
We define ourselves on so many levels with labels that we often don’t see it. Whether it is religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or other characteristic, we define ourselves with labels. Sometimes we allow our malady to label us. Those suffering from various addictions often consider the first step in recovery would be to accept the label of their addiction. A person may consider themselves a diabetic. Perhaps even a smoker may label themselves this way.
One of my goals during the past couple of years has been to build bridges with people who wear different labels. Whether religion, world view, sexual orientation, you name it. I have found labels useful at times in evaluating who I am, but I have learned the hard way that labeling others is often counter-productive and often inaccurate. Without understanding the totality of someone’s experience and outlook, my attempts at labeling usually fail at some level.
Now realizing that humans are pattern seeking animals, I recognize that instinctively despite my best efforts, I will try to put people into boxes to make sense of the society I live in. But I also try to think of people outside the box. As individuals with a complicated and sometimes contradictory set of characteristics and beliefs. And whenever possible, try to judge people favorably.
We live in a beautiful world full of amazing people. There are those who struggle and there are people who believe in some dangerous and destructive ideologies. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate just how many incredible people I dwell among. And just so you know in full disclosure some of the labels that certainly could apply to me.
Father, husband, uncle, friend, son, brother, bureaucrat, runner, hiker, fisherman, atheist, democrat, naturalist, alcoholic, Ute Fan, Vikings fan, Red Sox fan, Jazz fan, skeptic, American, Caucasian, male, heterosexual, socially awkward, excessively wordy, and some others I’ll think of later.