Thursday, December 22, 2016

Conflicting Thoughts About Labels

Writer, humanist, slow traveler, minimalist, trilingual, volunteer.

Imagine that person.

Now here's another: Singer, religious, fast-food consumer, monolingual, in debt.

How are these two people different? How are they the same? Can we even guess?

I've been thinking a lot these past couple of months about labeling people. I understand that labels can be useful to get a general gist of someone—artist, workaholic, single mom, Republican, Mormon—to find groups of common people, and to change your self-identity. Labels are often necessary for tasks like government applications, research, business, and the like. But labels can be a lot more divisive than we realize.        

I did a mind map the other week of labels that used to be applicable (at any point in my past), labels that fit me now, and labels I'd like to have at some point in the future. By looking at any of these lists, you will have a severely incomplete picture of who I am.

In fact, the two "people" we met at the start of this post are both me. The first six words are ways I could describe myself today. The second five applied at random points in the past.

If we were to first meet face to face over a story, however, you'd have a better idea of what I'm about. We'd probably also be more likely to connect—free from judgements associated with any particular label, and free from black-and-white interpretations of any given label as well. Because it's never that simple.

Describing oneself in 140 characters

Where do I see labels everywhere these days? Twitter bios.

And it makes sense—you only have a limited amount of space to describe yourself. Hell, my current bio is nothing but labels:
Writer, editor, teacher, snail mailer. Often living abroad (Spain, Korea, France). Lifelong learner. Facebook-free.
But is that the best way to describe myself? Is that the best use of that space, for me?

Would it would feel more authentic (to me) to have an "I believe ~" or "I value ~" statement instead? A quote I connect with? Blank space? Something else entirely?

Rebe not a rebel

Here's another recent encounter I had with labels: On December 14, I received an email from Violeta Nedkova inviting me to be an Honorary Rebel for her Creative Rebel Academy, which will launch in 2017. I'm thrilled to now know about and to be interacting with this inspiring woman. And I'm so excited for this opportunity to interact with other creatives who are being their authentic selves. Yet at the same time, I felt a bit out of place, because I don't identify with the word "rebel."

Generally I like to know the rules and what's expected of me so that I can comply. Tara Mohr's "Playing Big" (which I'm currently reading for a second time) has reminded me that of course we need to break/rewrite the rules when they must be changed—but this doesn't change the fact that I'm more or less fearful of authority.

To me, a rebel is someone who defies authority. Thus, by all logic, I am not a rebel.

Yet the Creative Rebel Academy community seems to be all about being yourself (forging your own path) and making positive changes in the world. I'm all about that!

After connecting, I noticed that Violeta was taking submissions of "Rebel Stories" to share with the rebel community. I did a mind map (one day closer to one hundred!) to brainstorm possible topics.

While there were plenty of small instances where my current lifestyle and past choices don't necessarily fit society's "norm" for an American female—no makeup, no career, no car, no house, no birth control, no TSA full-body scans (I opt out!), no religion, no microwaves, no Facebook, no new clothes (secondhand all the way!), no daily showers, etc.)—nothing is revolutionary by any means. Living this way feels normal and comfortable to me; there's nothing new here to my eyes. More notably, none of these choices were made from a source of "rebellion."

Anyway, I know I'm getting caught up in terminology here. At this point in my life, I think this is a fantastic community for me to join and grow with. But the word "rebel" still gave me second thoughts. And that's just one label.

Underneath all of the labels—whatever they may be—we are all human. That's where we need to look to begin connecting with one another.

How often do labels interfere with human connection?

I'm working through all of these thoughts as I type. So I'd like to hear from you:

When have labels held you back or been divisive?

When have labels been helpful for you?

How do you use labels (with people)?
• • •


  1. Let's say NO to labels! They're for cans, not people. :)

    That said, we do need them for communication's sake. Thanks for your thoughts, Rebe!

    p.s. I think I have never fit with any labels, which is why when I think of the word rebel or nonconformist or misfit, they kind of fit. Then again, I spend most of my days conforming to the rules of society so technically, we are all bearers of many "labels."

    1. I love that slogan! So simple and to the point.

      And yes, the "but" is that we need labels to communicate.

      Thank you for summarizing so well my splatter of thoughts! I appreciate your take on the "rebel"/"nonconformist"/"misfit" labels too. :)