labels

I have been called lots of things in my life. You probably have, too. Where does your head go when you read that statement? I imagine some people start thinking about the positive things they have been called. Positive accolades of sorts. I find myself drifting towards the negative. Or not even necessarily negative — perhaps I can broaden the thinking here — I tend myself associating “being called lots of things” with being given a label.

I feel like I have a few core memories where I have been labeled. Who does the labeling has depended upon the context. Most often I think about people in positions of authority or at least relative positions of authority (relative to me) who have given me labels. Sometimes the giving of the labels has been unsolicited. Like I am not asking for them to label me and they are instead proactively going about labeling me. Perhaps this is kind of them in the capacity that they were already consciously or subconsciously labeling me in their heads. And so by communicating it they are just being more transparent. Surely I do this, too. As I rank people on my implicit leaderboard. I try not to. Sometimes. But I often do this. Perhaps as a survival mechanism at the core. I look out to the world using an ocular lens of sorts, judging people as I go.

Other times when people label me it is me asking for it. You probably have odne this before. Most common example that comes to mind for me is when I go to the doctor. I am asking them to help me classify what is going on with me. Why? Well, it’s because I think this sort of classification or labeling will help me better identify a solution of sorts. And for most medicine this sort of category-based search tends to work out quite well.

A challenge I have had is when we begin to enter more of the psychological realm, when we begin to think more about the brain and we begin to apply labels to it. That is where my trust in the system drops quite materially. Like I generally trust most US based doctors when it comes to prescribing medication for my cold. But I fee like my default is very much not trusting “doctors” or psychiatrists or psychologists when it comes to prescribing solutions for brain-related or mental-related *things*.

My hope is that this will one day change. Our understanding of the brain and also of psychology and conditioning and systems will evolve to the degree that we actually can understand the impact of giving things labels and trying to treat them. But for now, sure, my trust is not very high. Nonetheless, I have spent time and money, more than I will write about right now, trying to unpack my own things, and in doing so have turned to so called experts who have provided me with so called labels to help me better identify solutions to my so called problems. My experience, as you could interpret via my tone, has not been particularly productive. Many times I feel like the DSM-5 or what not is trying to fit square pegs in round holes. Trying to group me. In a way that unlike medicine has not proven to me through my own experience as particularly productive. That is not to say that it has not helped out anyone. Surely it has. Surely the labels do help people. I would have to imagine. But for me…well for me I have if anything found myself spending too much time on the meta. The interpreting what the label even means to begin with, and far too little time actually making progress. And surely the pattern here is not linear. It is not a journey that you perhaps traverse and, like typical medicine, see results. Perhaps it winds up differently. So I have not given up. But I have really entrenched some of my values to the degree where I often do not feel set up for success.

I have had lots of labels tossed my way. I say this because perhaps you have, too, or on the converse perhaps you have not. I have responded differently to the different labels. But one observation or challenging thing that has happened, that I alluded to the above, is that after some time the labels begin to really take root in you and your personality. You and perhaps the people around you who know about the labels actually start molding to the broader category of behavior. Words have this crazy power! They can actually shape your thoughts and actions. In many ways, I feel that the meta word is a disease of sorts. That can take over your brain. That can get you to act in certain ways. That can transform your life. And it does not even matter if it is true. Your brain, and this is not science this is pure speculation, will just create new pathways that fulfill whatever activity is supposed to going on with the label. So that is the trap with labels. Or, that is the upside. You can certainly use labels to help you thrive. “You play for the dallas cowboys, therefore you should act like a dallas cowboy.” This would probably motivate you.

I think a lot about labels in various contexts. My own. My personal life. At work. With the titles we give out to people. In families, with the roles that are assigned or not assigned to others. In social interactions, when and how people introduce themselves.

Language we use can be limited but as we traverse the world we must think about the labels we are giving things and how they are impacting our perceptions.


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