Idiot. Psycho. Rapist. Slut. Man-whore. Writer. Entrepreneur. Programmer. Designer. Mother. Father. Workaholic. Student. Stupid.
These are all labels.
Labels are useful. When we present a collection of symptoms to a doctor, they see which label or condition the symptoms correspond to. When we talk about people we don’t know, it’s easier to describe them by assigning a label. When we’re trying to assess a market, we use labels to better identify and target our audience.
But labels can also inflict harm. Labels, by the virtue of their simplicity, cause damage. Consider someone who’s wrongfully accused of rape. Or paedophilia. Do you think they’re going to be a little bit reviled in their community, even if they’ve been exonerated of all charges? You bet.
See that’s the problem with labels. Although they foster and enhance our ability to communicate, they’re sticky. They can’t be easily shed. And because of this stickiness, over time, it becomes easy to mistake a label for an actual identity.
John becomes just a rapist. Alison becomes just a teacher. Mike becomes just a journalist. Harriet becomes a businesswoman. Lucy becomes just a single mother.
Labels promote one-dimensionality and make us forget about the multi-faceted personality of the person we stick them on. One person can be many things. There’s Harriet the businesswoman. There’s Harriet the mother. There’s Harriet the community volunteer. There’s Harriet the festival-goer.
But even then, that’s not right. We are not a label. We are not even the collection of labels others assign us. A human being, every human being, is something more. Something bigger. We are more than the sum of the labels attached to us.