We often talk about the perfect world in which we are all just seen as people without regard to our race, creed, gender, sexual orientation or preference for chocolate.
That would be a wonderful world.
Or would it?
Imagine a label-less world. One in which everyone we encountered was seen in the same light. No differentiation from one person to the next. A universe of perfect equality. A perfect nirvana.
The most boring, inefficient and useless place in human history.
Remember back to grade school social studies. When we learned about early civilisations, we talked about the necessary conditions for societies to advance. One of those characteristics that marked the groups who progressed was the ability to specialise and develop a division of labour. Humans moved forward when they learned to recognise, embrace and take advantage of their differences.
Labels are a necessary part of our life. Without labels, we would never know who was who, or who did what. As an advanced society, we have to be able to identify the specialists. Thursday afternoon I sat with a friend and helped her fill out an application for a practice learning placement connected to her social work course. The most significant part of the application was the section that asked her to describe herself.
She is a humble person and needed a bit of a nudge to get her started with the list of her virtues. By the time she was done, she had produced very impressive description of herself. The only way she could do that was to use labels for herself. The descriptive terms, communicator, helper, and facilitator, all complimentary, are still labels. She could not have described herself without the use of labels.
The problem, and why this is even worthy of discussion here, is that we have an issue, not with labels, but with how we use them. Similar to police profiling, we take a valuable tool and through our own laziness turn it into a weapon for harm. We often look for the simple solutions to our complex problems. We identify the negative and begin to follow the causal chain. When we get to the first negative cause we stop and by changing that we assume we have solved the problem. Usually all that does is create bigger problems.
I follow another blog written by a woman with medical and anxiety issues. She recently wrote about how people look at her judgmentally because she is so thin yet eats salads ( http://artfulanxiety.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/leave-your-judgement-... ). They should try to live her life for a minute, or at least get to know her before they pass judgement.
The same goes for any label. I am a person first, but the rest of the items in that list shouldn’t necessarily be crossed out. I am transgender. The jury is still out on the gay/straight/bi thing. I am also white, of European descent, an atheist, and so many other things that you really have to get to know me in order to understand how they all fit together.
Wait a minute! Is she on to something here? Get to know her?
Maybe, just maybe, if we accept that we are all different in many ways and the same in many others, and if we realise that even those to whom any one label may apply demonstrate a variety of characteristics under that label, we can use labels to our advantage. We can use them as a basis for ( and I know this is challenging for many, because it takes effort ) actually getting to know a person before we form opinions about them.
Nobody likes to start a conversation with a stranger blindly. We all need at least a small item from which to begin (unless, of course, we only want to talk about our favourite subject, ourselves). Labels give us a place to start. They are not a place to finish.
I do realise that what I am proposing here could lead to a chaotic upheaval of our very social fabric. We could possibly end up with a world where people take the time to get to know and understand each other for real. A world where Salafist extremists couldn’t rile up whole mobs based on a mostly ignored YouTube film made by a nutter who was trying to start trouble. A world where people wouldn’t blame a religion that is adhered to by 23% of the world’s population for the actions of .0007% ( that’s seven ten thousandths of a percent or 7 millionths of the whole group for those of you less inclined toward maths ) of its members.
This could lead to such silly things and peace and understanding. There could be justice. Heaven forbid, but this could lead to enlightenment and tolerance. We could stop letting the wealthy minority that controls the media tell us how to think, and we could think for ourselves. We could find out that just because we disagree with one part of a person’s life, there are other things about them we can embrace. We could make new friends.
There must be a catch. This is too easy. All I’m proposing is that we use that thing between our ears for something other that memorizing this year’s Idol and X-Factor contestants. That we take a little time to read, and talk, and learn. I just want us to exert a little effort.
Oh! There it is. The “e” word. Poop! I knew it was too easy. People would have to want to improve their relationships with others enough to exert some effort. Maybe after they watch 16 and Pregnant?
Who knows? A girl can hope.