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How do you label yourself? Christian? Liberal? Black? White? Spiritual? Other? How do others label you? Labels are handy ways to delineate groups without explanation. They’re also patently inaccurate at characterizing the individual members who cannot all be the same. Labels are often used to besmirch more than describe. When you lump someone into a group, and you believe you understand that group as much as you want to, you can dismiss that person and their ideas without the fuss of having to understand or discuss anything. You simply apply the label and react. Often we apply labels to ourselves without knowing what the label means to others or how well it describes us as individuals. If we box ourselves up in a group, we don’t have to take personal responsibility…or so we think. We like to belong.
Labels are always popular but never more so than in the past few years. History has proven again and again that we can cancel or elevate someone’s humanity in an instant with a label, giving ourselves permission to treat that person as less-than…or ourselves as better-than. We can even murder less-thans with a clear conscience in order to cleanse the planet. If you’re in a better-than group, you believe you have certain privileges.
Recently, I felt compelled to add a comment to a political Facebook post. I try to ensure the comments I make are primarily observations that may suggest the reader come to certain conclusions, but the comment doesn’t take them there. The responses people give often say more about them than they do about me or the subject. I don’t debate with people whose minds are firmly set, and I think putting people down with mean jokes that are personal and not based on evidence is immature. I don’t believe in endorsing meanness. When I commented recently that Lauren Boebert is good at mocking, that was an observation. She is. I leave it to the reader to conclude whether mocking is a desirable skill in an elected official.
More than once, I’ve received responses based on assumptions of what I believe and then attacks based on those assumptions. What does that mean? For example, if someone concludes from my language I’m educated, that someone may also assign a label to me and assume they know what I believe about many controversial subjects such as abortion, immigration, climate change, etc. They then leap into the void because they’re certain they know both the origins and the implications of those beliefs and what actions I might condone. They’ve assigned a label and condemned me as thinking and being what they imagine that label means. They’re arguing with their own illusion. They can do the same thing to institutions. They can go beyond meanness to vitriol and threats to well-intentioned people with no more motivation than their guess that the person belongs to an opposing label and to them that’s automatically a danger.
Why do I bother to engage on Facebook in the first place? I’ve been an educator for most of my life. When people spout unsubstantiated opinions that others treat as facts, I’m offended. Adults should do better. Ignorance kills. When we waste time jousting with labels instead of understanding individuals, policies, and ethics, we degrade humanity.