Many of us have been stuck with labels that make us shout “what the fuck”! There are pros and cons to labeling people some of us may think more cons than pros.

Labeling is an unconscious behavior that helps us understand people quickly by putting them into categories. The problem with this unconscious behavior is it limits a person’s possibilities. Labeling tends to make us narrow-minded. We can’t see past the label we have assigned to a person whether it is fitting or not. This can lead to dehumanizing an individual.

Let’s travel through my personal journey of the limitations of labeling

I was born lucky because I survived arriving 3 months premature weighing exactly 2 pounds.  Where luck drew the line though was bequeathing me with a speech impediment aka I talk funny. I was bullied on and off during childhood. Alarmingly, k-12 had ended but the bullying continued into adulthood. Adults have shared without hesitation about what I could and could not do because of my speech. The quote that resonates in my mind is “you will always work in the back room”. 

labeling pros and cons a girl frustrated after looking at her computer

Higher education has assisted me in understanding people’s limitations in accepting what is different from what they know and have experienced. I accept the fact it is human nature to make quick judgments and assumptions about people based on appearance, employment, where they live, who they love, which political party they support, which era they were born into, whether they graduated, have a higher degree, whether they are married, whether they have kids…the list goes on. Unfortunately, there isn’t a nonlabeling category.

In less than a second, we label and categorize every new person that is not in our inner circle. This quick unconscious behavior causes us to incorrectly group a human being based on superficial information. Labeling begins with the surfacing of expectations from our previous experiences.

Labeling simplifies how we presume a person to be. When we rely on labeling, we limit ourselves and the person we are labeling. Ideally, labeling is done for a quick understanding. Yet, when we do it we rarely check to make sure our assumptions and labels are correct. Instead, we label and move on, there are times when we learn more about someone and we easily adapt and let go of a previous label due to the new information. 

male reacting to his assigned label seen on his phone

Sometimes we refuse to let go of our initial thinking and our narrow-minded thinking has us stuck. 

Using myself as an example, I can tell immediately when I meet someone for the first time whether they can see me as more than a person with a speech impediment. When they can’t get past it, they make assumptions and share with me I must be deaf or I must be missing my tongue, I have had my teeth worked on, I have had a stroke, I’m from another country. I have heard every theory as to why my speech is different from others.

Oddly, it is acceptable in human behavior to share all these theories with me however when I dispel them, many refuse to let go of the disability label they’ve assigned me. 

Labels take on an “all-or-nothing” meaning. Someone either is something, or they’re not; it’s our brain making irrational shortcuts

Short but Sweet Labeling Positives

There are positives to labeling such as when we have a gut feeling about someone and we end the date early or we turn down the job offer. That feeling typically safes us from possible unpleasantries. Another is when we join a group of other like-minded individuals we have an immediate bond because we share the same label. 

Labeling is meant for categorizing not for dehumanizing

Labeling is interchangeable with stereotyping. Neither word is beneficial both limit us. I’d love to blame this behavior on technology and all the changes in America over the last 5 years however I would be perpetuating the problem. It is human nature to label regardless of era. 

Labeling holds us back in its simplicity. We live in a society where we believe people are redeemable so let’s take personal responsibility and give labels less power. Humans ebb and flow through life learning and discerning what is beneficial to them a part of that is being able to be seen as more than the label assigned to them.