Thursday, July 18, 2013

Labels, and that little voice in our head.

I am what I am.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about labels. By that I mean the labels we put on ourselves and on others.

Labels bug the hell out of me, for any number of reasons. I really don’t like it when someone sticks a label on me, because it’s always for their own reasons. I may not see the justice in it, or disagree with it strongly or find it insulting.

The worst labels are the ones that justify treating someone different from everybody else.

What brought this on was getting new Twitter followers. You can’t really be on Twitter without a bio. You have to fill in those fields when setting it up.

It is surprising what some people put in those fields—those little labels. We all want to be perceived as unique, and that comes through in the wit, the sarcasm, the facetiousness of some bios . Sameness is drab, and the fact is that we are all special, unique. That’s one thing, and I understand that.

People label themselves ‘nigga’ and I, a ‘white-bread honkey,’ can even understand the point. It is defiance. It is a kind of contempt. It is a statement made for very complex reasons, some of which I don’t get because I haven’t lived that experience…

What about the guy who called himself ‘a piece of shit?’ What about the lady who said ‘I’m a bitch?’

Putting labels on ourselves is stupid, but we do it all the time. Most labels are relatively benign.

“Hi, I’m Dave. I’m an architect. This is my wife Amy. She’s a registered nurse…”

Those labels aren’t causing a lot of harm. It conveys something about who we are and what our social status is. It is a measure of our pride, and solid proof of our hard work and effort. Not all labels are necessarily bad.

Some of them can be limiting.

Someone knocked over a glass and what they said next was kind of revealing.

“It’s okay, I’ve always been stupid…”

Who told you that? That was not my initial impression.

My initial impression was that you had knocked over a glass, and we all do that from time to time.

What happens when you label a girl ‘a slut?’ Then go off and tell everyone else. Doesn’t that sort of label lead to every skanky guy who just doesn’t care to go and hit on her? Aren’t they mostly false and misleading in their statements and treatment in order to get what they want? Don’t they all lie to her to get her to do what they want—to be a slut?

Labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You know, my mother was really impressed with me one day.

What happened was, she introduced me to somebody, I forget who, a realtor or whatever (another label, but you know what I mean,) and the inevitable question arose.

“So, what do you do for a living, Louis?”

“I’m a writer.” That was the first time in my entire life that I had ever said that to someone. More than anything, I want other people to call me a writer. Does that seem strange? I’d give my left nut for some really great writers to say I was a good writer. What other people think of us is surprisingly important, don’t get me wrong on that score.

“I’m a writer.” Notice I didn’t say, ‘crazy as a shit-house rat,’ or ‘mean person,’ or ‘asshole.’

But then, I don’t think of myself that way. Not at all—so the label is clearly inappropriate.

I have never said, upon an introduction, ‘I’m a Caucasian.’ (Sort of self-evident anyway.)

There were a lot of things I didn’t label myself over the years—alcoholic for example.

Oh, I can drink, and I like the feeling of being a bit drunk. I’ve drank out of sheer boredom, I’ve drank to help me go to sleep at night after a long afternoon shift at the fibreglass plant, and I’ve drank socially.

But I never labeled myself an alcoholic.

And when I don’t have any money, I’m not going through withdrawal. I miss it but don’t crave it. Yet you could say I need a beer once in a while.

Labeling me ‘some guy who needs a beer once in a while’ seems rather silly and pointless, as I am sure the reader would agree.

What if you constantly told a kid, ‘You’re no good.’

Wouldn’t they try to live up to that, or at least wouldn’t they find normal reinforcement, just as we all do, when things didn’t work out, or they got into some minor trouble? Wouldn’t everything work out in the end, and as they sat in a jail cell, later in life, wouldn’t it all seem so inevitable?

Wouldn't it appear, at least to them, that they never had a chance? That it was beyond their control?

I’m constantly surprised by the things that parents say to their children.

If someone is trying to label you something bad, don’t wear that label. Pick one out for yourself—and make it a good one.

At Shalako Publishing, we are always challenging assumptions, our own mostly.

That’s a good thing, mostly, for sometimes learning takes a long time. And sometimes it happens in an instant.

I spend a lot of time alone, as you can imagine, and I do a lot of this sort of introspective thinking, but the perspective of other people is vitally important because they see us from outside, which is a completely different perspective.

My mother is a real smart lady. You know what she said?

“The voice we hear most often is our own. It’s with us always, there inside of our heads, and we can’t get away from it. Your brain is the most powerful instrument you will ever have. And it doesn’t control you—that’s a fallacy. You control it…”

She’s a real smart lady, ain’t she? I’m lucky to have her, and don’t I know it.

The point is that other people don’t hear that voice that’s inside my head or yours. They don’t know anything about it.

They make their own observations.

I was thinking about some of my Facebook friends. I won’t just pick a name, but some very respectable people are on that list. I wondered what some of them would say about me, or how they would describe me. For the most part, they seem to tolerate me, or they would drop me, wouldn’t they?

I was surprised by the answers I got—from that little voice in my head. By going outside of myself and taking another look.

It turns out I’m not such a bad guy after all.

Where did I ever get the idea that I was a bad guy?

Every once in a while we should just pick someone out of a crowd and say something nice to them.

Mostly for our own sakes.

Anyhow, thanks for listening.


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