Labels are for spices - not people. Yet, one of the most natural things we do is categorize people, self included. We can't help it. We're only human. We want to know how and where to place things in our minds, as if our brain is a container store waiting to box people up and fit them into what's familiar.
“Ah you’re from Jersey? I lost money in Atlantic City once.”
“Oh, you’re a writer? I write morning pages everyday!”
Sometimes they help us connect. Yet more often, labels call out our differences and narrow our minds - and there is the danger. Ultimately, they divide us, perpetuating unhealthy comparisons and unnecessary competition.
Plus, they attempt to fit the beautiful complexity of our humanity into one single word! Some even living with us since childhood. Are we the quiet or the rowdy? The delinquent or the delight? The troubled or the gifted?
There are two kinds of labels. The kind that people give us, and the kind that we give ourselves. The question is - how much do the ones that people give us affect the ones we give ourselves?
Our psychology says that whatever we are labeled is likely what we become; proof that our words matter undeniably. How can such labels become the core of our identity?
If we’re told we’re too quiet or too wild all our lives, how much time do we spend living up to those external expectations? How long do we lock ourselves inside these labels, instead of feeling free to be just who we are?
Simply put, labels GOTSA GO! Here are some mindset shifts we can begin working on to change our labeling game.
1. Use “AND” instead of “OR”
I used to suffer inside, never knowing where I belong. I felt American in Israel, Israeli in America, and living in the space between nowhere. Until I realized that we don’t need to be identified by our location, our culture, our accent. Yes, by others we might be, and it may make us feel different, and separate.
But it doesn’t need to. Because we are never JUST one thing. We are so many things. Labels (and other humans) often slap us into one word and walk away. But we don’t need to accept it. If we replace one simple word, and use AND instead of OR, embrace all our sides simultaneously, instead of allow them to create separation, we can stop feeling like we belong nowhere, and start feeling like we belong everywhere, and right here.
2. Use the “ZERO FUCKS” mantra
I’ve always struggled with authority, believing that people with a fancy title are somehow worth more than myself. I used to cry during interviews. It was that bad. Yet I reached a point where I was tired of always feeling inferior to others. I realized I was giving others too much power, labeling them as more important than me. And that is the farthest from the truth. No one is superior or inferior to another. This is an outdated power structure which needs to go.
Now, whenever I feel inferior or get too inside my head about how other people perceive me, I remind myself that I give Zero Fucks. My life is mine, and that’s the end of the story. People don’t need to love me, or even see me. I am worthy of living life my way. And so are you (unless of course it is doing harm to someone else - then I may give some fucks).
The point is, when we find ourselves judging or labeling others, it is our own responsibility to turn inwards, reconnect to our truth, and give zero fucks what others may think and stay in our own lane.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
3. Play with the question.
You ever meet someone new and within 2 minutes, the “What do you do?” pops out. This has become my most dreaded question. I love what I do, yet however I respond is an immediate label, and that makes me anxious. Because well, what DON'T I do? I have too many hats, and they are all a part of me. If I only share one hat, then how will the other person know who I am? If I share all my hats...well, too many hats can be overwhelming.
By practicing points 1 and 2 here, and remembering that we are allowed to be many things, I use this space to play with the question instead of falling into the labeling trap. Responding playfully shows personality and pizazz, and makes it less about the hats and more about the heart. My favorite response to ‘what do you do,’ with a hat tip to a dear sister Hanane from Dubai, is “whatever it takes.”
We don’t need to be boxed in if we don’t want to be. It’s up to us to playback, to challenge, to expand, and to allow our true selves to shine.
4. See everyone.
If we saw everyone as equals, would we need to label as much? Humans are naturally attracted to those who are similar. It offers a sense of comfort in sometimes uncomfortable situations. Yet, what if we made it a goal to see ALL the humans? Meaning, dropping the superior and inferior complexes built into our presently hierarchical society.
I practice this daily, by attempting to acknowledge people you may not typically think to acknowledge. The behind the scenes humans who are essential to run the world. The ones who are different than you. Our bus drivers and cab drivers. Our doormen and cashiers. Our coffee baristas and security guards.The homeless, the poor, the ones not like you, the ones you'd call "them."
By approaching ALL humans with curiosity, a hello, a smile, or even just a glance, we acknowledge OUR equal existence and value.
5. Invite your radical imagination.
Have you ever been curious about something and then told yourself, “but that’s not me.” Enough with this! By using these words, we are limiting our lives by a bajillion percent. What if you got out of your own way and stopped holding yourself back? What if you allowed yourself enough imagination to dream big, and take action that stretches you, even just slightly out of your comfort zone? The moment you stop shrinking yourself into the box you’ve been given, the moment you break free.
Ready to try it out? Take something you said you would never do, and do it. Just try. What the F do you have to lose?
A final thought > We label because we want to understand. Yet if we could release the need to understand and instead approach life with a sense of curiosity, this could open our minds instead of close them. Labels make life too simple, and we all know how complex each of us are.
“Replace labelling others with discovering who they are.”
Robert V Taylor
That includes yourself.