I feel like my blog post titles are always so vague. So if you thought I wanted to talk about chucking out on my dictionary, think again.
As humans, it’s instinct to want to investigate the world around us. When we discover something new, we want to give it a definition to distinguish it from other things. Heck, we all have a birth certificate with an assigned name when we enter this world. Labels are crucial for understanding life. But they can also be harmful.
Specifically I am referring to labels we place on ourselves and others. This could be anything from a bully calling someone mean names or simply referring to yourself as a certain sexuality, the context of these labels differ dramatically, but even labels that are established with good intentions could still be limiting.
Personally, I label myself often. I like having words to use that I can use to describe myself when I feel like I can’t explain it myself. They help me feel less like just a mediocre, average joe. I take personality tests to decipher my seemingly confusing personality. Somehow I hope to gain a sense of self-assurance, a way to stand out from thousands of others just like me.
I remember one day having a conversation with a friend about sexuality and how labels have extended so far beyond just straight or not. As research shows, sexuality is on a spectrum. But people still want to have a name to use, have a staple foundation to work from. When sexuality as so much grey area involved, however, trying to pinpoint exactly what you are could end up being a six-plus word long name that is probably more confusing than it needs to be.
That’s like any other part of life, too: we aren’t just a black-and-white jumble of letters and only that. We are grey and every color under the sun. When we remain strict to certain phrases, whether we gave them to ourselves or not, we are placing ourselves in a box. Boundaries stop us from going beyond certain characteristics associated with a label. We fear leaving the safety of that label into unknown territory.
Especially when coming of age and trying to figure out your identity, it’s too easy to identify with a certain term and think your work is done, that that is who you are. It’s a lot more work to just be because a label is a comfort zone. Trying new things unexpected of our personal definitions is scary, but you may depriving yourself from a new passion or trait. Once we choose a certain label and perhaps discovering a more accurate one later, trying to change it can be a task in of itself. For some, it can feel like starting from scratch.
When we define other people with labels, we are not only affecting their lives, but also our own. Someone who may not see themselves exhibiting certain traits of a given label but can easily fall into that role, which is good or bad depending on the word. Not only that, when we verbally or mentally refer to someone a certain way, we limit our expectations of them. We stop ourselves from diving deeper than the label. We may focus on the traits associated with the label and not think of the multitude of other qualities that person possesses.
Growing up, I was so annoyed with how people saw me. I had always enjoyed school and worked very hard to earn high grades, but that also led my classmates always seeing me as “smart.” Which sounds like a compliment and a simple observation, but I heard it so often, I felt like I couldn’t be anything except good at studying and academic work. I hoped people would see my hard work in other areas, too, like music and other fine arts. As someone with not much self-esteem and confidence at the time, that was quite a challenge for me to overcome that obstacle of cringing at references to my schoolwork, but in that challenge, I have realized how the people in my life don’t see me as so much more than “smart.”
As a wise person once told me at a summer camp I went to for five years, a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. Labels are crutches that prevent us from growing to our greatest potential. You are so much than a stagnant textbook definition. You are a soul with depth, rich with passions and interests and quirks. You have the ability to change and grow in whatever direction you choose.
And even as a writer, I now understand that the best things in life are the things no words can describe.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie