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A Talk About ‘Labels’

April 23, 2013

I find myself frequently labeled by others. Within my workplace, this can be a highly negative concept as labels tend to stick with us. How many of us remember being “labeled” by kids in the playground? Whether it be loser, fat, geek, nerd, bitch or any number of things, to be labeled generally has some form of negative connotation. Or, at least I think we persuade ourselves that it does.

Heaps of other blogs talk about how tired they are with society’s need to label. However, labeling serves a useful purpose in terms of how society operates, and can have a number of other effects on how we see ourselves. We label cars are good or bad in our own minds, and use these labels as shortcuts in our thinking. We label food as delicious or horrible depending upon our tastes. Labeling is here to stay. No amount of social discourse or awareness is going to change that. With each new generation society has to teach another group of people to think. Labeling/stereotyping/grouping serves as a very useful mental shortcut. We learn things as a child, such as green flowery stuff (sometimes called broccoli) is a vile substance to be avoided. So when we are presented with a new “thing” to challenge what we know, we go to our pre-made template of labels. Is whatever that is on our plate green and flowery? Then it must be vile. No need to taste it.

Labeling can be useful, however, both as a mental shortcut and as a driver to identify some guidance for our lives. When we are labeled, someone has identified what they think is a trait in us. It might be that we are tall, short, fat, anorexic, arrogant, weak or nerdy. If, instead of viewing this as an attack on our ego we use it as something to help us develop self-awareness, it loses its sting (mostly). For example, if someone tells me I’m a fat nerd, it means that they perceive me to be overweight and have specialised knowledge in something that they think is not worth knowing. From this I can ask myself if I am overweight, and if so, what do I need to do to fix the problem? What do I know that they don’t, and how can I use this to my advantage? Another example could be if I was told I was good at baking, but useless at cooking (something that is unfortunately true). I know what I could improve on, and I know where I can show off my talents too.

And for the geeks, if my level 32 Rogue (who knows his speciality very well) suddenly multi-classes with a level in, say, Paladin, what happens to his skills then? They become unknown, and it seems like a wasted effort to achieve that improvement. Or for another universe, if an Imperial Space Marine picked up a Tau Pulse Rifle and started calling himself a sniper. He no longer knows his role and his skills suffer despite having them. In terms of the labels associated with those particular skill sets, it seems pointless to attempt to break free of those labels. I guess I’m trying to say that not all labels are bad, as some help us know ourselves

“I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.” Ralph, Wreck-It Ralph

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