Karla’s Korner: Who Needs Labels?
Who Needs Labels?
When my son was little he would insist that I remove the tags from his shirts. “They itchy” he would complain until I removed them. Those tags or labels bothered him to the point where at that moment nothing else mattered. I remember when he was maybe five he asked me to remove a label at which point I asked “what if I want to give your shirts to someone else after you grow out of them and don’t know what size they are?” Looking at me as if I had just asked the most ridiculous question ever he replied “who needs labels? They can just try it on and see if it fits”. His expression spoke volumes and all these years later the question still remains: who needs labels?
I recently watched a TED talk that addressed the topic of labels, empathy and the idea that people are people. In 2008 Timothy Kurek, a graduate of a large Christian universitie, began to wrestle with the idea of labels, intentional empathy and the importance of people being people. He had had a conversation with a female friend who had come out to her family and friends that she was a lesbian. Heartbroken that her family had disowned her immediately she was lost, confused, hurt and alone. Kurek felt the need to begin to work through some of the ideas he had been taught in his life trying to figure out how to live in intentional empathy. Kurek, embarked on a journey to unlearn many of the things he had been taught in his early years and re-learning what it is he actually believed in his own heart; in own soul. He spent an entire year living as a gay man. He learned through his experiment that labels are not necessary. Because someone is gay, straight or somewhere in between doesn’t define who they are. He learned that those in the gay community with whom he spent a year, love God, his God as much as he did. Their lifestyle is not a label just as his doesn’t label him. I ask again, who needs labels?
In our society today we find ourselves labeling or stereotyping others as a way to define or categorize them. Publicist, writer and producer Jaime Sullivan recently posted on social media that she took her children to downtown Birmingham, Alabama to feed homeless people. Her oldest daughter, Olivia was a bit apprehensive to approach those they were blessing with food that afternoon. At the last moment she approached a man, Carlos handed him a sack lunch and asked him if he was homeless? His answer was quite profound “I am but I am a good man who made many bad decisions”. You see, he is homeless, without a home but that doesn’t define him. That label does not describe who he is or the type of person he is. That label indicates that he is without a home. Nothing more.
Life is filled with things that need labels such as food containers, clothes and shoes. Without labels on those things we would not know if we were opening green beans or pet food. Without labels we would spend way too much time trying to figure out which clothes or shoes to buy. Labels help us make certain everyday decisions a bit easier; labels are for things not people.
I am guilty of using labels to describe others and recognize the need to be more mindful, working toward eliminating those labels seeing people as they are; people. By striving to keep the world around us “label-less” we become an example for our children in hopes that one day the labels will disappear. We must realize that by putting labels on others we can possibly hold them down, keep them from excelling in life. Labels are mere assumptions requiring less work than taking time to get to know someone for who they are not what we think they are by their appearance, socioeconomic status or lifestyle.
Author David W. Earle wrote: “Putting labels on others creates a black hole of disregard where judgment thrives and schisms deepen.” I encourage you to put the label maker away and approach others with an open mind and heart. Look beyond what you physically see. Find out who people really are, connect and discover that much like Timothy Kurek who at the end of his experiment discovered that we must live each day with intentional empathy. We must see people as people acknowledging our differences as just that; no more no less.
Life is meant to be lived with people, not labels. Live well. Laugh loud. Love deeply without condition or labels; it will make your world a better place. Again I ask: who needs labels?
I think we all need a touch point a place we can go to be inspired. Karla is my children’s teacher, a good friend, and a person with a heart of gold. I hope that her words will inspire you to do more. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. It is important to listen with your heart and proceed with your eyes open. Enjoy!
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