Why do humans require labels in order to understand things?
In my many discussions, both online and in real time, I find that there seem to be labels for everything. What purpose do they really serve?
When I state that I am introvert, I don’t say it to create a competition between myself and non-introverts. I understand the need for extroverts and ambiverts in this world, as we all approach thinking and actions in much different way. The same holds true for cultural differences. Earth is comprised of myriad differences, and efforts to label and homogenize more than 7 billion people seems such a waste.
We learn from those who we perceive as “different” from us.
Humans have appropriated the customs and ideals from others since the beginning of time. The act of labeling others likely stems from a time when we were divided into tribes, and we defended against the invasion of other tribes who might take our women, children, our food, or our land. At different times in history, tribes killed other tribes, or enslaved them. All of this stemmed from a perception of “otherness” tribes felt toward other tribes. And this continues today.
In our ongoing efforts to categorize anyone who is not us we create a dividing line in our minds that impacts our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. This becomes ever more prevalent in current media. The more we are divided, the less understanding we gain about our sisters and brothers in the human race. Simply because we might be culturally different, or socio-economically different, doesn’t mean that we are truly different.
The recent Supreme Court decision affecting same-gender marriages is a classic example. By attempting to deny rights to one group of humans classified as “different”, detractors of the decision attempted to create a widespread perception of how the LGBTQ community is radically not considered part of humanity. Or part of their tribe. In that way, dividing lines were drawn in the sand, and members on one side challenged to stand up to the other tribe.
We see it within communities of every type. Yet, at the end of the day, we are all essentially human and we strive to fit in or more optimistically, reach a hand across those dividing lines in brotherhood, partnership, in acceptance.
I was born into a culturally mixed family. I have Latino and African-American brothers and sisters as well as Caucasian. I have witnessed the struggles my brothers and sisters go through every day because they are culturally different than what some others attempt to declare our country “should” be. And at the same time, I am considered automatically biased against my own brothers and sisters because my skin is lighter. I am told I will never understand the plight of __________________ (choose a descriptor) because of “white privilege.” That somehow, in spite of the fact that I came of age in a culturally diverse environment, I’m considered “of a different tribe,” and therefore not to be trusted. And very few believe me when I state that I try to be “color blind” in all situations, as I don’t feel that skin color makes a difference one way or the other at the end of the day. They laugh at my perceived naivete when I say that I don’t believe in any “race” but the HUMAN RACE.
That is not to say there isn’t bias and prejudice being forced onto people all the time. I am not negating the actions of a few to show myself to be more accepting. In fact, the opposite is true. All we can be is ourselves and not fall prey to the attempts of other self-proclaimed tribes in dividing us.
We must remind ourselves that we are not the sum of our thoughts or emotions. We are not easily fit into categories that can then be declared “different” and then be treated like second-class humans. I know less about your life and background than I do anyone else’s, and the same holds true when others pretend they “know” me.
I don’t like red meat even though my ancestors were meat eaters. Does that make me “of a different tribe?” I don’t dislike extroverts just because I’m not an extrovert. I dislike black licorice. I believe popcorn is a meal. I prefer reading over parties or social interaction. At the same time, I understand that these qualities make me me, and not a sample to be comparing the world around me to. I believe that gender and sexuality is fluid, and that we experience many aspects of both while becoming mature. I believe that your Truth is very different from my Truth. Yet at the end of it all, we die just like everyone else. I feel that we will be better off when we begin seeking out the commonalities between us.