Labels are the identities and roles that have been imposed on us by others or ourselves. These labels can “cast a spell” on us and become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Were you the “black sheep” in your family? The “smart one”? “The beautiful one”? Often these kinds of labels are imposed on us at a young age by our families. All too often we end up living out the label, bowing to the pressure created by the expectations of those around us. The power of suggestion, along with social pressure, can induce us to believe and act out the roles in which we have been cast. These life scripts can become “living coffins” that hamper our ability to recognize and embody all that we can really be. We are buried alive trying to live up to, or down to, expectations that do not relate to our true potential.
What are the effects of living out these labels?
Aside from limiting, clouding or distorting our sense of who we are and can be, labels can also lead us to live out roles that are the projections of others and not a part of who we really are.
Our true selves are often deadened, our true voices muffled, and we lose sight of our capacity for spontaneity and intimacy. For example:
- The boy whose parents discouraged in him any display of tender emotion because he was expected to be “a real man.” When he grows up, he has no real connection to an emotional life and all his relationships suffer because of it.
- The “stupid child” who becomes so comfortable in the role of someone who is not very intelligent that the prospect of succeeding or showing talent in anything becomes terrifying.
- The “beautiful child” who never develops a rich inner life because her beauty opens all doors for her and she misses the opportunity to learn by striving and sometimes failing.
In epidemic proportions, families are structured around polarities such as “the good” and “the bad,” “the winner” and “the loser,” or “the lucky” and “the unlucky.”
Polarization also occurs in every culture and country: the “enemy” is “bad,” while one’s own group is “good.” One polarity always depends on the other for it’s existence: there can be no “winner” without a “loser.”
In fact, labels play a role in most personal and social conflicts. Label Liberation is a means of unlearning roles and the habit of viewing one’s self, other individuals, groups, cultures and situations in terms of polarities, and/or as symbols. In wars, people don’t kill people, symbols kill symbols. In prejudice, people don’t hate people, symbols hate symbols. From a larger social perspective, labels lead to phenomena such as generation gaps, family conflict, violence, suicide, alienation, prejudice and wars.
Label Liberation is a process of recognizing and moving beyond our existing labels and scripts, which limit our sense of self. Are you a person or a symbol first?
If my mother is walking down the street, do you see her as a mother first or a person first? A person, of course. How do I see your mother? As a mother first or a person first? A person, of course. The critical question is, how do you see your own mother? As mother first or a person first? The trap is that we have been conditioned to see our mothers as mothers first, our fathers as fathers first, instead of seeing them as everyone else does – as a person first.
Label Liberation has the potential to transcend restrictive roles, labels, polarities and prejudgments of all kinds, making a profoundly liberating dimension of identity and communication accessible to everyone, whether between individuals, families, companies, countries or cultures. It has the potential to develop, promote and foster human understanding, goodwill and peace by enabling all persons to understand, evaluate and appreciate one another as individuals free from bias, prejudice and misconceptions arising out of/or created by social, ethnic, racial or national labels, symbols, classifications or nomenclature.
Justin Thomas is Just-in-Time
–Marshall McLuhan, philosopher and media theorist
“Label Liberation… I’ll never forget it.”
–Michael Jordan, NBA player
–Michael Moore, Author & Director