Friday, August 29, 2014


Labels are telling. They can tell us the amount of cotton to lycra ratio in a garment. They tell us how long we can trust the milk to last. They tell us what symptoms to watch for when taking a medicine. All this is good. Thank God for labels.

When we use labels for people however, it tells a different story. It may tell us as much about the one using the label as it does about the one who is the  subject of the label. For me to call someone a liberal, politically or theologically, may reveal that I'm a bit [I wonder where "a bit" is located on the continuum?] to the right of where I perceive them to be in whatever subject is being addressed. If someone were to call me a fundamentalist [which is absurd by the way] it may show they are a bit to the left of wherever they think I am in reference to whatever area of theology we are talking about. It is a rare occasion when labels actually reflect reality about someone. 

It could be that labels are good or bad depending on the motivation of the label giver. For me to determine in my own mind that someone is a bigot/racist because of their hatred for a person of another ethnic, religious, or societal group, can be a healthy thing if my motivation is to help protect the one/ones judged or to avoid being like the one judging. That label gives me fair warning, as I said, in my own mind. 

But if I call someone who disagrees with me a trouble maker [a label] because I don't like being disagreed with or am fearful of rocking the boat of an appearance of unity [which isn't true unity at all] because of what I think someone on the outside looking might think, it is an unfortunate, if not unfair label I've assigned to another person. That's REALLY unhealthy.

To feel the need to label someone publicly, with condemnation, because of a position or thought they hold on some issue may mean that I have a problem no matter the subject being debated. That kind of public use of labels with a condemning attitude seems to me to be just cause to challenge any person's motivation.

As I said, labels are telling. It is what they actually tell us about ourselves that we have to eventually get to if we're going to be effective in building communication. 

It may be wise to limit labels to products entirely and just flat out eliminate public use of them in our communication and conversations.  

That's my thought about it anyway.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


So true!

Your words cause me to think of the Pharisees and their proud thoughts.

Labeling always uses oneself as the standard for social attitudes,religious beliefs, etc.

Labeling others IS, as you say, what the labels "actually tell us about ourselves".

Bob Cleveland said...

Labels are like anything else ... they're handy, and can be used for good or bad. Depending on intent of the speaker/writer.

Handy: It saves a lot of recitation to say I'm a Baptist. It would similarly save a lot of explanation if I simply say I'm Calvinistic, too.

We just need to keep in mind that labels are descriptive, not prescriptive. I don't mind being thought of as unusual, but most of what I do is quite commonplace.

Bottom line: I like labels.

(Just had a good laugh here....)

I mean how long would it take to do the grocery shopping if the box on the shelf just listed all the ingredients? Don't we really depend on the label on the front that says, like "Cake Mix"?

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I couldn't agree more. It is the standard we use that is the basic flaw in it all. Thanks.


I hear what you're saying and on one level can agree that it is a helpful thing and even end my first paragraph with "thank God for labels." But it is the pride that comes with labeling that ruins it all. Even the label "baptist" finds itself in that trap all too often.