I had an interesting conversation with a very thoughtful person who I respect a great deal, about his objection to being labeled. The “labels” are what we use to describe ourselves of those we interact with. So, I may use terms like “Indian” or “Gujarati” or “Engineer” or “Liberal” to describe myself, or a person I am interacting with. Associated with each label is a list of attributes; such as expected behavior patterns, likes, and dislikes. These may be real of prejudicial.
His objection was related to these associated attributes, because they may be falsely assigned and unfair to the person being labeled. I agree, this would be objectionable, especially for those of us who are (or at least think we are) different from the others covered under the label being commonly applied to us. Ideally, we would like to know what lies underneath — — what are the person’s interests or views he/she holds. They may or may not be what one would assume given a label.
However, there are a couple of problems to achieving this “no-label” world.
First, in many cases, you don’t have a choice from being labeled. A black person has to just show up to be labeled as a black person. An Indian has to open his mouth and a Muslim woman wear her hijab to be so labled.
Second, it will be difficult to start a conversation with someone unknown without asking a high level label-related question. My thoughtful friend was quite surprised by the first question we asked when we met someone, say at a B&B we were staying. It was: “Where are you from?” To him it was our attempt at label the person based on where he/she came from. When I asked what would he do, he said he would ask what that person’s interests are.
In my opinion, that would be quite awkward. If I say as the first question, “Hi, what are your interests?” I might get a glaring look back. So, “Where are you from?” is an innocuous beginning of a conversation, even if it implies we will judge the person based on the response.
Assigning a label is tantamount to pre-filling a list of attributes associated with a person. We may change the list as we know him/her better, and even forget the label we had initially assigned. But we need something to start with.
We are here to live with labels, either you applying it to the other person or vice versa. The only hope is that we move beyond the label quickly and keep an open mind regarding the validity of the pre-filled attributes that come with it.
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I have covered related topics in my earlier Posts. In my Post of December 2013 (“No Name”) I wondered what would happen if we had no name, which is an extreme example of having no labels. In February 2015 Post (“Real You”), I developed a three-level structure to describe me (or you) based on a similar structure I read about in a book on