I don’t know about you, but I love labels. No, not labels like designer brands. And not labels like stickers. I mean social labels, nouns which refer to people’s specific characteristics or behaviour.
The thing I like about labels is that you get to pigeonhole the image of this person in your head perfectly with that one little word. You want to describe what an asshole this guy you had the bad luck to run across on your way to work today, but you don’t want to waste too much of your breath describing what sort of person you think he is. And when you find that perfect label that describes him perfectly, it’s such a little accomplishment when the person you are telling this tale you understands immediately your mental picture of said asshole. Or if you want to describe this guy you just had a date with and how impressed you were by him, this one label you put him to will make the friend you’re telling to understand why you are that swooned by him.
But… for precisely that reason that it’s not good to label, isn’t it? Because labels give a one-dimensional picture of a person. And a person is definitely more than one dimension; there are infinite sides to a person, some possibly not even revealed to anyone else but him or herself. And labels do not reflect the multi-dimensional element of a person. Though we know a person is more than who he or she seems to be, labels doesn’t remind us of that. Labels just seem to form a person’s identity through a particular quality or trait the person possesses.
If it’s a negative label, the immediate reaction would be yes, it’s not good to label – reasons for doing so notwithstanding. If it’s a positive label, the immediate reaction would be, why not? It’s always good to talk about someone’s positive traits, isn’t it?
Well, you see, labels are like its semantic sibling, stickers. Labels stick. And some stickers are hard to remove, or they leave sticky residues which remind you of the sticker you got rid of. Labels, whether positive or negative, tend to have a lasting effect, which has effects.
When people say I am this negative trait or that positive thing, my instinct is to shout it’s not true!! When someone says I’m a drama queen, (if I take it negatively) I instinctively deny this label because I know for a fact that in person I do not like drama related to myself. I enjoy listening and talking and watching drama – real life or reel life – but when it’s drama about me, I don’t like it. That’s why I rant in my blog, because I want to avoid conflict, though by doing so it may seem I’m bringing drama to a part of myself very reveal-able to people and therefore showing myself as a drama queen indeed!
Or when people say I write really well and I should be a writer or do work related to it, I also instinctively deny that label. (Okay, it’s not exactly a label but I don’t care, I’m using it! You get what I mean, anyway.) Not because I think it’s a negative label. Far from it – it’s very much one of the highest compliments people can pay me because I love blogging and naturally I take pride in my writing. I deny it because I know I write well here because it’s about a subject I’m passionate about – me. (Vain, but true.) This blog is all about me – my ideas, my life, my longings, my worries, my fears, my friends… of course I write well in this context. But I know that if I were to pursue writing as a career, it would not be as easy as blogging is to me (I only need to wait for inspiration to strike, with no pressure or obligation to produce something entertaining or thought-provoking every time). There were many writing assignments back in college I didn’t do well at because I wasn’t interested in the subject matter. The ones I did well at, were either about me or about something I feel strongly about. That’s why I deny the writer label… I don’t think I can be one. (Which is why I don’t submit articles to newspapers.)
Labels are powerful stuff. They don’t just affect the person you’re labelling, but also people who you reveal the label to. When your friend tells you her boss is a bitch, it’s immediately branded into your head the sort of person she is. Added by the horror stories your friend wails to you, all the more it seems that’s all this woman is. So when you do meet the infamous woman, you are wary, maybe a little scared, even. But for some reason you saw a different side to your friend’s boss. She’s actually nicer, totally not the bitch your friend described. And you are torn between your genial feelings of your friend’s boss and your friend’s tales of her. I mean, your friend wouldn’t lie about such things. But what goes on between your friend and her boss may not happen between you and your friend’s boss. The same could be said the other way – what happened between your friend and the boss could happen to you too…
I guess my point is that labels should be used carefully! Disclaimers are best complemented with it in order not to paint the wrong picture. 🙂
Okay now, label me, people!