I was talking with a friend today who is a new mom. She was telling me about how her identity has suddenly shifted. She is no longer Sarah, but she is Austin’s mom. She has some how been lost in the equation. It makes sense, people like boxes and categories, as they help us to know where to put others in our minds. But in the process we turn people into something, rather than accepting them as human.
She and I spoke about how labels keep us from getting to know a whole person and how labels also keep us from being known. We meet someone and immediately ask for their label, “Hi, what do you do?” Label. We see someone with a significant other. “Are you two married?” Label. We see two men together. “Are you gay?” Label. We see a woman with children. “How many kids do you have.” Label.
The answer to any of the above questions becomes a label and it becomes the entry point through which we get to know an individual. But something often gets lost in the interaction. Instead of getting to know a person we’re getting to know a mom, a teacher, an engaged couple, a gay, or a single person. We then arrange our questions and dialogue around those topics, forgetting that a person is more than the sum of their label.
I joke around with people that I am a pinata. I look like one thing, but if you were to open me up you’d find a whole bunch of other good stuff. I’m pretty sure we’re all a lot more like pinatas than statues. We aren’t the sum of the label we carry and we actually have to work to get out from under them. We also have to work to keep from putting them on to others.
What is your label? Does it describe all of who you are or just a part? What do you wish people knew about you that your label does not communicate?
Now take a moment and think about the people in your life. What are the labels you’ve given others. Do you ask questions beyond their label? Do you think about others outside of their label? Does a label keep you from wanting to know a person? Does a label automatically cause you to think you’d have nothing in common with them?
This week challenge yourself to ask questions beyond labels. You might be surprised at what you’ll find!
Leave a comment with the labels you’ve given or been given!