· by Steve · Read in about 2 min · (293 Words)

Let’s stop labelling people.

We label ourselves, in order to gain acceptance from others, to feel like part of a larger whole, or to claim some kind of “identity”. A neat, easily-parsed silhouette which can be presented as shorthand, like some kind of personality hash. It’s not accurate, but it’s simpler, faster and often more palatable than the hazy, shifting reality.

Worse is when we apply labels perjoratively to others; usually it’s to build straw men, their primary purpose to faciliate bad-faith arguments, most commonly on social media. It’s lazy, reductive, and entirely pointless except to give likeminded people the opportunity to nod sagely and have a momentary warm feeling of validation.

Labels are easy shortcuts to inane questions like “So what do you do?” (meaning: summarise yourself in one sentence so I can decide whether to move on), and “Where is this person on the political spectrum?” (meaning: it better be within a standard deviation of where I am, or we have a problem).

Packing everything into nice little boxes is certainly one way to cope with the innate complexity of the world, but a better way is to acknowledge that these are just bad questions designed to allow the enquirer to not have to think very much.

You realise as you get older how reductive, inaccurate and transient labels are. If you live long enough, labels you’ve applied to yourself tend to fade and peel off. Sure, you could put new ones on to replace them, but at this point, why bother? They’re wildly over-simplified, gaudy, and will probably just fall off themselves later. Also itchy.

People are complex, multi-dimensional, changeable beings. Once we can accept that about ourselves, maybe we can start to accept it about other people as well.