Posted by: bitsydungaree | June 5, 2008

Let’s Not Put a Label on It

Do labels really make our life easier?

My good friend Katie suggested in a recent blog that they do, that we allow ourselves to be labeled because it saves us from the pressure of having to exist outside our comfort zone. And I think I agree with that to an extent; the “hot girl” knows that she is not being invited into The Privacy that Encourages Love-Making to, as Samuel and Esther Kling so brilliantly put it, “air her views on the international situation.” If she knows that her worth rests in her appearance, she can let herself off the hook in a lot of other areas…like being smart, funny, and/or interesting.

And I know that I have done it. Because I know that I will never be the “hot girl,” I have tried to ensure that I am labeled in enough other ways that no one expects hotness from me. That way, if, on a good day, hotness happens, it will simply be a bonus, and on all the other days, no one will be surprised or disappointed. I have tried to make sure that I excel enough in certain areas that people are willing to overlook the others where I fall short. If I am “the Shakespeare girl,” no one is going to expect my improv to be mind-blowing. If I am “the back-up singer,” the success or failure of the band doesn’t rest on my shoulders.

So maybe having a handy-dandy personal descriptor simplifies life by giving us an “out” when we are faced with a situation or a decision that asks us to be bigger than that label but, in the long run, I would venture to say that living by labels makes our lives harder because it makes it difficult, if not impossible to grow.

In our relationships, the labels we create become the lens through which we see all of the other person’s behavior. Too often, we see only what we want to see, what the label tells us to expect. If I label my best friend “a flake,” I run the risk of being more upset with her when she has to change plans than I would if “my most reliable friend” made the same request. If I label my boyfriend as “emotionally unavailable,” I will gloss right over the times when he dares to open himself up, in the same way that he will never see my strength if he paints me with the “uber-emotional female” brush.

Labels can simplify things by making sure we always know what is expected of us but, like many of life’s shortcuts, are likely to do more damage than good.

Though only loosely related, typing this keeps making me think of a conversation at my Bible study a few months ago. My friend who was leading the group that week used 1 John 1 as a reassurance that God’s light protects us from darkness.

This is the message that we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

In what is apparently my fashion, I argued the opposite. To me, this passage isn’t saying that if you have a relationship with Christ, He will bring you out of the scary darkness and into the safe light, but rather, if you have a relationship with Christ, it is your obligation to drag yourself out of the comfortable darkness, where you can live in ignorance of your sin, and into the blinding light where all of your flaws are exposed.

The safety of living within a label, in my mind, somehow touches this same idea. Not that labels are sinful or un-Christian, but that they are something within which we shroud ourselves to disguise the things that we couldn’t bear to have labeled.

While Katie is right that venturing outside of others’ perceptions of us may be difficult, I would argue that the struggle of shedding the label is more easily conquered than the challenge of living a life within boundaries that forbid you from growing into the full, complete human being that God created you to be.

And so, as my college roomie said in a much-quoted freshman year acting exercise:

Let’s not put a label on it.

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Responses

  1. Very nice. Very nice.
    Thanks for blogging about my blog 🙂
    I like hearing the other side.

  2. I whole-heartedly agree with everything you just said…except the part of you not being hot.

  3. LOVE IT!!! Glad to see my freshman year performance is still making an impact on you to this day. And, you are most definitely a “hottie.” Always remember- I am not friends with people who aren’t hot. : )

  4. ” I would argue that the struggle of shedding the label is more easily conquered than the challenge of living a life within boundaries that forbid you from growing into the full, complete human being that God created you to be.”

    Although I actually agree with most of what you said in this blog, as is often MY fashion as well, I am arguing the other side.

    I find your statement above somewhat perplexing, given that you are (wait for it, here comes a label) the uber Christian. Is Christianity not the quintessential label that not only asks you to remain comfortably within the boundaries it sets, but in fact demands that you live within those parameters and not shed said label lest you be left without God’s grace on earth and in the afterlife? And furthermore, within the context of Christianity, aren’t said boundaries meant explicitly to help you grow into the full, complete human being God intended you to be rather than forbid you from such growth?

  5. Well, Libby, let me just say that (a) I suppose the exception proves the rule, and (b) you are smarter than me.

    That said, I think it is important to make the distinction between the boundaries implicit in the Christian faith and the boundaries that come along with the Christian “label.” The “label” of Christianity might say that I shouldn’t drink or wear a low-cut top. Hell, in the eyes of many, the Christian “label” says that I should be judgmental, close-minded, and a hypocrite. These things have nothing to do with the limits designed by our Creator to guide us on a path to actualizing the potential that He set within us.

    The boundaries that God gave to help me live my life to the fullest are, in my mind, not the same as the limitations that I allow to be put on myself based on a label by which other people perceive me or (even worse) by which I want them to perceive me.

    That is a short answer to a very big question.

    Can you please comment such interesting and thought-provoking things on all my blogs? You will make me smarter simply by figuring out how to answer you!

    Also, can I say how refreshing it is to hear a non-believer acknowledging that “said boundaries [are] meant explicitly to help [us] grow into the full, complete human being[s] God intended [us] to be?” I am so often frustrated by people who, even within the church, aren’t able to grasp that the guidelines we’ve been given by God are there to liberate us, not to hinder us.

    Thanks for being so smart and wonderful!
    xo

  6. I think it is possible for someone to be strong in faith without having Christianity label or pigeon-hole them. We all have things that we are or that we do. These things, however, don’t need to be a definition. They are just aspects of the greater whole.

    I am a husband, an actor, a soon-to-be father, a Steeler Fan, a liberal, a student, and many other things, but none of them alone describe me.

    I think this is what Bits was getting at in her post. She may be the uber-Christian, but when I think of her that isn’t even the first thing that comes to mind, and since she never pushes her faith on anyone but herself it sort of blends into the background of the wonderful human being that she is.


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