This weeks post is going to be a bit different than usual. Instead of teaching, today I just want to talk to you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about labels this week — how we choose to let them define us and how no matter what, they will always exist.
We give ourselves these labels in order to place ourselves somewhere – anywhere. But are they even accurate?
Have you ever felt like you don’t really belong with a label you’ve been given? Maybe you’re a dude who likes other dudes. Maybe you’re in a Christian family, but you’ve never agreed with the Christian teachings.
Maybe you want to skip the whole mothering thing, while everyone around you is pressuring you to have a child. Or maybe life made you a follower and all you want to do is lead for a change.
Or maybe you’re a White Lesbian Athiest who just had a baby with your Black Christian Wife.
The truth is that no single label can ever begin to describe or define us. We are a mix of many, many labels and we must give up that “all or none” kind of thinking.
The other day, I said something to a friend that was perhaps a bit overly critical. She responded with “Aren’t you supposed to be a Buddhist?” Which was her way of saying I should be nicer to her.
Regardless of my comment, her question is what got me thinking about labels. In truth, I’m not technically a Buddhist. I do feel that most of my beliefs align well with the Buddhist philosophy, and I have considered becoming a full-fledged Buddhist, but it’s still a very new thing for me. Most of us grow up with religion being handed to us – we believe what our parents believe. It would take me years to learn and study a new language, not days or weeks.
So what’s my point here? This friend knew about my research into Buddhism and automatically assumed that would suddenly be “Buddhist”, as if by assuming that label, all Buddhist traits would immediately be mine.
It doesn’t work that way.
How about a new mother who is so tired that she would rather sleep than hold her newborn? I hear this story so often, but yet these exhausted new moms are still feeling the pressure to be SuperMom and they are plagued with guilt when their emotions don’t match up.
Or the son who is expected to join the family business like his father and his father’s father, except he’d rather go out on his own and explore the world.
The problem with labels isn’t fitting into them— it’s the backlash from not fitting into them. Tweet
Once you take on a label, those around you know where to put you in their convenient mental filing system. They expect certain behaviors from you, and you deviate from the label, their whole system crashes.
And you know what?
Because it isn’t your problem, it isn’t your concern, and it isn’t your job to help them pick up the shattered pieces of their stereotypes— It’s theirs.
They are the ones who created the problem in the first place. They are the ones responsible for their confusion. Not you.
The opposite of a label is still a label.
I see so many who try desperately to avoid being labeled or stereotyped. But this just isn’t possible. The opposite of one label, while different, is still a label – even if you don’t have a direct replacement for it.
For example, most of the people around me are huge fans of the Florida Gators football team. Their slogan happens to be “If you’re not a Gator, you’re Gator bait.” They assume that you’re either with them or against them. But then here comes me, who isn’t a fan of the Gators. Which would, by their definition, make me one big juicy piece of bait.
Only, I’m not against them. I’m not for them, but I’m not against them. I just happen to have zero interest in football. I couldn’t care less who wins or loses.
But even though I don’t take sides, I still have a label that’s been given to me.
Make like the wind.
I believe that one label, or ten, can never begin to truly define us. Yes, we may have labels, but they are simply to guide us, never define us. Otherwise, there’d be a lot of other people in this world just like us.
In order to be individuals, we must let go of the rigid walls of stereotype, and find our own way. Learning to flow where life takes us can be an immeasurable part of finding happiness. Instead of clinging desperately to your labels, try letting go and see where the wind takes you.
Instead of saying “I am __________.” try simply saying “I am.”