The Tower of Label
Society today seems to be fractured and polarizing. The culture that we live in, the television and movies we watch, politics, sports, all boil down to categories into which we place others. Even in church this is difficult to escape, progressive vs conservative, traditional vs liberal, young vs old...the damage we do to others in this labeling and sectioning has been discussed some this week, so what bout the damage to ourselves when we label others?
To decide to place others in a category, or to apply a label to someone may very well be the actual application of the old children's argument "I'm rubber and you're glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you." Each time I label others, I am placing a label on myself.
One of the things that is frustrating about today's social climate is the lack of true debate. To simply place a label on another person, and therefore assume that I know their argument blocks any chance of honest give and take discussion on actual issues. The norm of modern debate consists of giving someone a name, and then punishing them. Punishing also anyone who chooses to show sympathy or association with those we are in opposition with. Yes, true debate does involve taking a side; however, modern debate simply operates on the premise that I am enlightened and you are an idiot. Language like, "any reasonable person can see..." takes the place of examining natural cause and effect of making choice A or B. To make the decisions of identifying another person based on opinions or thoughts dehumanizes the other person and keeps me from seeing the catalyst that led the other person to his or her stance. Choosing not to see the human seated across from us, and rather the issue breaks the connection I have with them and allows me to see myself as better or more enlightened, a dangerous stance of superiority that robs me of the value of the man or woman I disagree with.
Graham Cooke writes, "Irritation is caused out of our carnal capacity to be angry and annoyed at people and circumstances and to believe the worst about someone or something. This leads to abnormal sensitivity to self, and we become quickly offended. Irritation and the negative emotions that accompany it are a sign where our flesh needs to be touched by the Spirit. It’s a sign pointing to our next transformation! Irritation does not go away. It gets stored, liked body fat. This is why we must exercise ourselves to godliness." from Prophecy and Responsibility
Placing labels on one another violates what Jesus terms as the second greatest command to "love our neighbors as ourselves." My dad told me all the time growing up when I was sectioning people out "Son, my rights end where your nose begins." I can choose what is necessary and beneficial for me based on the circumstances and realities of my life. If I make that decision for you then I see you as less than myself, creating a dangerous superiority that skews the natural balance that all men are created equal. Inequality damages my ability to maintain relationships and receive love from others. A life lived in total and increasing isolation is a burden in which I will eventually fail to live up to my own expectations contributing to self loathing.
Interactions with others is a need that God spotted in humans early on, "it is not good for man to be alone." To constantly draw lines of association and involvement is an increasing burden, leading to a role as world police and authority. This is a role we were NEVER created or intended to hold. The burden of being judge and jury of others is a burden that will affect our health and well being. I drove a school bus for 8 years, driving a bus full of students on a daily route as well as many weekend trips. There were very stressful times of heavy traffic, bad weather, and even mechanical problems that added to the responsibility of maintaining the safety of my passengers. The stress that I place on myself when I label others, and then decide if the need to be swayed to my way of thinking or just placed in a different circle of association is a constant burden that we are not qualified to carry. The stress of always being right leads to isolation and shallow relationships that contribute to the stress. Constant labeling and pigeon holing leads us to carrying grudges and forging a new identity for ourselves that skews who we really are intended to be.
For those of us in Christ, we are not owned by our possessions OR the labels and boxes we place on others or ourselves. How much more effective would our witness to Christ be if we applied the love of Jesus to everyone in place of the labels? How many more places could we step into if we were to lay aside the "Us vs Them" mentality that labeling creates?
The following prayer mentions standing before God with empty hands, I would add a plea to God to help me also not be what I label myself or others. Please allow me to escape the box that I have placed myself in with the divisions I have created. Please help me live out the truth of "no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, and no male or female" for if you have broken those barriers forgive me for the new ones I have tried to construct.
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life