Last night, I attended a forum on immigration and immigration reform.

It was very enlightening and even inspiring, but I was struck by something that I’ve encountered before, but it really hit me this time.


When I realized it, I looked over at my colleague, Terri and whispered …

“This is all about labels!”

She replied …

 “Hmm … Interesting!”

These days, we use labels for practically everything. This includes products, projects and as usual, people. Everyone and everything under the sun has been marked, despite whether or not they cooperate.

Immigrants … Patriots … Evangelical Christians … Mexicans … Conservatives … Liberals … Blacks … Whites … Gays … Women … Tree Huggers … Right to Lifers … Pro Choicers … Catholics … Muslims … Jews … Libertarians …

I could go on and on. You name it.

Society practically demands that we put labels on things and people so that we can categorize them and put them “in proper order” in our own minds. Because saving time is always a priority, we need to be able to quickly assess whether or not someone is worthy of our time and attention. It’s the height of de-humanization.

As soon as we pull out that label, we’re instantly able to love or hate someone based on nothing else but that label itself. Consequently, the human being is gone and the label is all that remains.

We even label ourselves according to what we do for a living … even though in all likelihood, it’s not WHO we really are …

Doctor ... Lawyer … Sanitation Worker … Pop Star … Congresswoman … Mail Carrier … Dog Groomer … Flight Attendant … NFL Quarterback …

As soon as we hear these terms, we “brand” people with our own personal biases and perceptions. It’s no longer about them and who they truly are outside of the label. It’s now about US, how we perceive them, what we expect of them and how they can be useful – or not – to US.

Labels do serve a purpose. They help us to solidify our perceptions about others. We decide whether to “like” or “hate” someone and then, we label them, which further strengthens and therefore, justifies our initial perceptions.

Labels allow us to objectify people … turn them into objects of scorn … or adoration … depending on the circumstance. It’s all about OUR convenience in the moment, isn’t it?

When we label people, we turn them into products of our perceptions, rather than human beings who are pretty much like us – trying to figure out life from day to day.

Have you ever looked at anybody and they’re also looking at you, but you know that as they’re looking at you, they’re not really seeing … YOU?

I mean, you can just tell that they’ve already reached a conclusion about you without even attempting to ask you a single question about yourself.

And in those precious seconds, you think to yourself, “No one knows ME better than ME!” But somehow and some way, the damage has already been done.

Welcome to “Life in Label Land,” my friend. It’s no fairytale.

You never really see it coming, but when it does, it’s shocking because you realize that there’s nothing you can really do at this point. Your best efforts to reshape your image in their minds is now an exercise in futility. That’s if you even care.

In short, perception is reality. Labels are almost always co-conspirators in this crime.

The problem with labels is that they aren’t all bad. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to be called a “hot, super-intelligent and powerful person”? I mean, that would be great, wouldn’t it?

But again, the problem with labels is that they have a way of imprisoning and therefore, restricting us. Even positive labels can often be like wearing a diamond choker around your neck. That diamond choker is very valuable, but it’s still cutting off oxygen to your brain.

What’s the point of that?

Labels are like psychological and sociological jail cells. It’s hard to escape them … and everybody wants out. Even a fashion label can kill your game.

Imagine walking through life constantly being labeled. You’re minding your own business, living your life as best you can and the next thing you know, somebody labels you. They label you with a judgmental eye or sharp tongue.

It’s dehumanizing. Life in label land is no fairytale. It's all too real. Yet, as always, you know that you are your best publicist. No one can represent you better than you can represent yourself. Even a top notch attorney would have their work cut out for them after they’ve been labeled.

Good or bad, it comes with the gig. Labels knock you for a loop. They ruin your day. They’ve very inconvenient.

When people label you, it’s shocking. All you want to do is ask …

“Is THAT really HOW you see me?”

You desperately want to tell people to “suck it,” but instead, you suck it up. That’s because you know that while the label is currently sticking, at the end of the day, it’ll slowly dissolve away. The way you carry yourself will ensure that.

At the end of the day, you have to be your own ambassador.

Once that label is gone, hopefully you’ll have enough time to reassess and recover, but once again, when you least expect it, you’ll be labeled again. It’ll happen, good or bad, despite your best efforts.

I’m smiling as I write this because I’ve come to realize that when people label others, they don’t realize they’re labeling themselves. They’re actually telling us who THEY are. This alone should make us think thrice before labeling people.

Labeling is basically name-calling in disguise. I mean, when you think about it, when someone labels you, it means they’ve got some spare time on their hands.

Labels, bad or good, are just nonsense. But at the end of the day, it takes a label to make one.




Picking Sides