Hello, my name is…

We all do it. We all label other people. Whether we like it or not, our social structure depends upon judging a book by its cover and throwing personal meaning to the wind.

Labels can be good. Sometimes we need to know if a container really does have medical waste inside of it. Sometimes we need to know whether we’re buying Coke or Pepsi.

In social interactions, however, labels are detrimental. They suffocate personal freedom. Labels tend to dampen the freedom young people hold most dear: the ability to define themselves.

During college, it is important to be able to find out what is actually important and relevant to your personal growth.

When others get involved in that process, the hatchet job of labeling each other based on personal characteristics ensues.

We’ve all been labeled before by gender, nationality, race or creed. There’s always been something that’s set you apart from others, and that is what’s usually used to define you as a person.

People do this because it’s easy. They don’t really have to know you to be able to slap a big fat label over your chest.

The farce of labeling people by their most salient traits falls short in every single case, because every individual has countless variations within themselves.

The detail in every human mind and personality cannot possibly be contained by mere traditional labels and the conventional attempts to define a person.

I’m calling on you to wake up and realize that you and everyone you know will never be able to be contained even by the first and last names bestowed upon you by your parents. You won’t even be defined by what your major is or what sports team you cheer.

It might scare some, but even one’s mind will never be able to be defined, no matter how hard you try.

It’s easy to write people off by the color of their skin or their sexual orientation, but people must realize that our system of language fails on this count. I’m a huge fan of the English language, but in this instance, it falls short. We can’t encapsulate the whole of a person in a mere word.

Language is bureaucratic and fails to capture the glint in one’s eyes or the timbre of his or her laughter, so let’s realize that we give meaning to words and not vice versa. Let’s not have words give meaning to us as individuals.

Virginia Woolf, a woman defined by the words she used, once said that: “Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”

We should heed her example and not allow our laziness or incomprehension to reduce the infinite characteristics given to us down to mere labels.


Reach the columnist at Peter.Northfelt@asu.edu or follow him at @peternorthfelt


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