Don't Put a Label on Me!

Joanne Reed

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Don’t Put a Label on Me. Don’t put me into a box and stick a label on it before you even get the chance to know me. I am not the same person I was when I was 20, 30, 40 years old. I am the sum total of my genetics, my upbringing, but also the books I read, the countries I traveled to, the ups and downs that came on my path. I can be reliable and predictable and also spontaneous and unpredictable. I respect people and choose not to worship them. I am a giver but I need to give myself enough time and space to advance my interests too. Today I can decide to be as exuberant and as colorful as I want and tomorrow, I can decide to be as dull as the grey sky if I feel like it. I don’t gossip, but I read and write. I am all of that and more and a constant work-in-progress. So please, don’t put a label on me.

Don’t put a label on me. The problem with stereotypes.

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A stereotype is defined as a simplification of reality, a rigid categorizing — and often discriminatory — representation. A stereotype is a fixed, overgeneralized belief about a particular group or class of people. By stereotyping, we infer that a person has a whole range of characteristics and abilities that we assume all members of that group have.

Stereotypes are like air, invisible but always present.
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For example, saying that women have no sense of direction, that girls suck at math, or that football is a man’s sport, are stereotypes. Stereotypes can be positive or negative. Negative stereotypes about women and minority groups are easy to spot, more pernicious are the positive ones, such as men are not in touch with their emotions, black people are good athletes. They don’t seem so pernicious because their content is complementary, but stereotypes are bad even when they are good.

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Adichi Chimaamanda

Stereotypes can be linked to any type of cultural membership, such as nationality, religion, gender, race, or age, but it is important to note that there is a difference between cultural generalizations and stereotypes. Cultural generalizations allow us to understand the patterns of cultures to which one belongs (nation, age, gender, etc…) and it provides the basis on which one can understand other cultures. Cultural generalizations involve categorizing members of the same group as having similar characteristics. Generalizations are flexible and allow for the incorporation of new cultural information. They are a type of hypothesis or guess, of what we expect to encounter when we interact with a certain culture; and this is a good thing.

Generalization is a concept that is flexible and can subsequently lead to increased cultural awareness and thereby improve intercultural relationships. Generalizations become stereotypes when all members of a group are categorized as having the same characteristics. Stereotypes are typically inflexible and resistant to new information. They can, and often do lead to prejudice and intentional or unintentional discrimination. Cultural stereotypes do not allow for individual differences and interfere with efforts to understand an individual on a personal level.

Stereotypes make us lazy and encourage nonchalant judgment because we assume things about people based on stereotypes. It drives and nourishes racism, sexism, and all form of discrimination. I have a strong aversion to labels and being put into a box and I don’t allow people to do that to me. As soon as someone puts a label on you or throw you into a specific box, you lose your identity as a unique and free individual who may or may not fit into that stereotype, and who is free to be whoever they want to be.

Don’t put a label on me. The problem with being put into a box.

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The problem with being put into a box with a label on it is that it considerably restricts your freedom to think and act the way you want. We are all unique and different from each other. What makes us different is not the color of our skin or our geography, it is the fact that there isn’t another person like us anywhere else. All around us, there are spheres of authority always dictating what we should do, how we should act, and what we ought not to do. Aside from the formal structure like laws, there are also informal powers dictating our actions lifestyles, speech, thought patterns, education, cultural upbringing, religion, politics, etc… This invisible current forces us to travel a certain path, act a certain way, and be a certain type of person. Much of our individualistic tendencies do not develop as freely as we think because we have to conform to societal expectations of ourselves and stay well within the groupthink model.

The next question you should ask yourself is who has an interest in putting people into a box and stick a label on it? People who seek power and control do thrive on sticking a label on you. Because it is easier to control people this way. Once you belong to a certain box you are expected to walk on a straight and narrow line. Venturing outside that path is frown upon. Dissenting views and actions are not allowed because dissent is being viewed as being disloyal to the group. Nowadays if your thoughts and ideas are not in line with the rest of the group you will have to face the new social media Thought Police, because the chance is you are going to get canceled and censored. From a difference of opinion, you can quickly move to fragments of intolerance to violent factions. And just like that, you have a 1984-Dystopian-type of society where it is not very pleasant to live in and where Big Brother is watching you all the time with the Thought Police ready to storm in and take you away.

This phenomenon is very much into your face in the political arena, where everything is partisan, and where groupthink ideas are shoved down your throat. The ideas of the group are sacrosanct even if they go against your personal interest because the group knows what’s best for you. When you submit to the group you acquiesce to everything that the group asks you to do. You don’t have to use your ears, your mouth, or your brain anymore. The group tells you where to look and what to see. And if you dare to look the other way and start questioning things, they tell you what you are seeing is not what you are seeing and they proceed to interpret what is going on for you.

One way to free ourselves from the shackle of societal restrictions that impede the originality and flexibility of each person would be to develop our individualism and sense of freedom. Freedom of expression is the lifeblood and cornerstone of a free society, without the freedom to think and express ourselves freely, there is no free society. So, we’d better start thinking for ourselves quickly before it becomes illegal. Don’t get all romantic about your ideas or the ideas that the group promotes. You are not married to those ideas. Some ideas are good and others not so good. Stay free to adhere to the ideas that are congruent with your outlook in life and toss aside anything that makes you uncomfortable.

People should be able to stand for what they think is right. They should be able to fight for what is honorable and acceptable and they should have the freedom to reject what is slimy and unacceptable. The problem these days is that everyone believes that they hold the absolute truth of the matter; except that no one can legitimately claim to have such clarity of mind that they know the absolute truth. Truth is a very fluid concept, what’s true today may not be true tomorrow.

Things change all the time. It is perfectly fine to have strong convictions about this and that, but you should do this with humility. You should hold those convictions and make them contingent on whatever facts, data, arguments, life experience, etc… that come your way with the result that your original convictions can be shaken and made less potent.

You can stand your ground and be open-minded enough to seek common ground. And, don’t try to put a label on me, because I won’t let you.
Joanne Reed

And this my dear friend is your Quest.

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As an author, I made it my Quest to write about anything that nourishes and educates the mind with a zest of philosophy, plenty of good vibes, and this little 'Je ne sais quoi'. You can never underestimate the power of storytelling. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves, and about others.

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