I Can Suggest Where to Stick Your Labels

While in the car the other day, I was randomly scanning radio stations when I inadvertently heard a guy who, in my opinion, was giving questionable advice about how to wipe out bullying.

I didn’t give much credence to his advice for three reasons.  First, I found him really annoying. That in and of itself really shouldn’t reflect on the validity of his advice – – but it did reflect on my opinion of him and everything he said.   Secondly, he was talking in sound bites, and I’ve come to believe sound bites are specifically designed to prevent people from having to  think.  It allows them to repeat something they’ve heard as an absolute truth without knowing all the facts or putting it into context.

And the third reason?

His simple solution was  aimed at changing the behavior of young people without addressing the bigger issue: the adults – –  the people who are supposed to be the role models – – who are actually the worst perpetrators. We just don’t call it bullying.

Sometimes we call  it politics. Sometimes we call it religion. And sometimes we call it patriotism.

But no matter what we call it, we are simply using acceptable terms to hide the fact that we are practicing the same behaviors as bullies:  using labels to belittle those who threaten our beliefs  and/or our lifestyle  while using other labels to build ourselves up.

I know. I’ve been there. On both sides of that label making frenzy.

I’ve sometimes deemed people who consider themselves conservatives as being self-centered and dogmatic individuals who care more about their own bank accounts than they do about the welfare of others,  especially  those who are different or less fortunate.  I’ve characterized them as people who frame every  issue within the lens of their own life circumstances, struggles and successes rather than considering a broad range of factors.

That’s  not always accurate or fair.   But even though I know a lot of very intelligent, kind-hearted and well-intentioned conservatives, those labels are still there, niggling at the back of my mind and sometimes escaping my lips.

But then, I got labeled.  I was told that liberals don’t  believe in personal responsibility or living within their means and we don’t like rich people just because they are rich.

For me, nothing can be further from the truth.

But when it comes to labels, the truth doesn’t seem to matter all that much. What matters is they are having a very negative impact on our lives.

For those who want to control our votes,  labels make a great tool for dividing us, swaying public opinion and preventing people from digging deeper into the real issues.  When we are busy pointing fingers or ridiculing others  as being wrong or misguided based on their label, we aren’t engaging in genuine discussions or discovering areas of mutual agreement and understanding. We are simply falling into a trap that’s been set out for us.

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoid that trap for very personal reasons.

I can’t tell my children that name calling and bullying are wrong if I’m not setting a good example. That doesn’t t mean I can’t still be opinionated or call out actions and behaviors that are wrong or against my beliefs. But that’s very different from labeling a person or a group of people  with broad generalizations.

It’s not easy, but it just may be worth the effort. If nothing else, I feel like it’s helping me become a more patient person.

And that’s a  label I’m willing to stick with.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a daughter and son at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my two dogs and stirring things up.

Posted on October 20, 2011, in My life, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I particularly respect that you name yourself as a culprit as well. Too often we can see the flaws in others without acknowledging them in ourselves. I think when you are honest about how even you manage to step into the pitfalls you don’t believe in you open others to the same self-examination. I grew up in home with black, white, Baptist, and Jewish roots and married a husband with Italian, Anglo-Saxon, Catholic, Protestant roots. Our children are walking melting pots, yet we still struggle to avoid stereotyping others.

    As a teacher, I see it all too often. Administrators who think it’s okay for kids to call each other fags. Teachers who label minority kids as not wanting to learn. Parents who don’t want their kid working in a group with the “special” kid.

    The kids are learning from us. We all need to take a long hard look at ourselves and the images and opinions we project.

  2. The worst that I heard was Liberals=baby killers. That is really foul.

  3. Great post, Trina! An introspective analysis is always the most honest and the easiest for people to relate to, though it may feel uncomfortable to the writer! You make yourself vulnerable in order to make a good point and have enough confidence in humanity to know it will all come out alright so long as you speak from your heart! Bravo! Love this. ~L

  4. Great blog Trina. You have the ability to put to words what many of us are contemplating.

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