Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don't Label Me, Bro

Pete Holmes hits it again, using his comedy podcast to interview Franciscan Friar and author, Richard Rohr. The podcast is long, but they begin with a talk of duality - the notion that we naturally view everything in comparison to something else - short/tall, rich/poor, etc. Not only that, but we tend to pick one over the other - tall is better than short (for example... but also in reality).

What this becomes, if we're not aware of what's happening, if we're not conscious of it, we try to fit everything and everyone into one group or the other - when we encounter something knew, mostly some one new once we're adults, our first instinct is to label. "Oh, ok, this guy talks a lot about the environment - liberal, hippie, etc." Then we move on to engage.

But we engage with the label first, then the person... if it every gets that far. Which is precisely the trouble.

Things don't have to fit categories to be true.

Which is, I guess, a bit of a relief, since life never fits into quick and easy categories. Our culture puts things into dichotomic order almost out of necessity - no one pays attention to things long enough to engage on a unique level. We need to be different.

There might be a lot of people out there living life for some purpose or goal, and most people, if they don't fit specific categories, are just getting in the way. I'm not so sure that's true, though. The more I live the more it seems to me the point of life is to know and be known by the people around you - all the people around you.

That's obviously easier said that done. I know a lot of my neighbors, but I don't even known half my neighbors - and most not well enough. I certainly can't say there are many people with whom I interact regularly who know me very well. We don't really live in a society built for that.

We live in a society built for labels - well, as human beings, we, ourselves, are built for labels. This intentional focus on people, on getting to know the unique qualities of those around you, is just another of those things we have to fight against instinct to accomplish. No one wants to be labeled. No one wants to feel pushed into a group or defined by some intangible property. It's dehumanizing and it pushes us away from each other.

Be aware. Even if it's just realizing how our brains work, that we're wired to label people, to make two boxes and put everything (and every one) into one of them. Knowing what we're prone to do is the first step towards learning a different way.

Perhaps this is timely as we're in the midst of Presidential candidates announcing their campaigns. The US election system is front and center in this movement to label. Maybe we can treat these guys (and lady(ies)) as complex individuals or maybe just as people, instead of caricatures in boxes of our own design?

If we can't do it with our candidates, let's try to at least do it with our family, and friends, and the people we meet each day on the street.

Don't label me, bro, I'm not like anyone else you've ever met. I'm just me.

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