Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Labels

The problem with politics and activism is that they encourage you to take up positions - to avoid evaluating situations (and people) as you find them, because there's a set ideology that you are supposed to espouse as a tory, greenpeacer, Christian, etc etc.

Throughout my life, I have found labels to be very comforting, but I am realizing a need to move beyond them. I met a guy once who told me that I couldn't be a feminist because my father walked me down the aisle when I got married. This man had got his definition of feminism, I believe, from Foucault (another man). I was deeply offended. Several times, people have assumed I was a vegetarian, because I "look like a vegetarian." I was deeply amused. I was just discussing this with Melissa. Apparently, people are often surprised she doesn't eat meat, because she "doesn't look like a vegetarian." Apparently vegetarians don't wear make=up?

Anyway, from the ridiculous to the laughable, these experiences of having other people label me has encouraged me to look at the way I label myself, at the pigeon-hold I put myself in. When I was a teenager, and into university, I thought of myself as artsy. Then I went to law school, and realized that I have a very logical sequenced brain (or else my indoctrination was so complete that my brain was rewired through the process . . .). My image of who I was, where I fit, kept me from experiences that I was fully capable of, and being able to offer my talents to the fullest to causes that I care about.

When I lived in Scotland, it was the first time I removed myself from everything I knew. It wasn't so much that travelling was a chance to reinvent myself as some kind of wild and crazy party animal, but it was, as cliche as it sounds, a chance to find myself. I could strip away all of the identifications that I was scared to leave behind, because they were what people at home knew me as and counted on me to be = and I examined who I really was. What I believed. What I liked. What I wanted. It was scary - I almost lost my faith. But I came out stronger, and by being willing to self=examine, I realized that being honest with myself was worth disappointing, and maybe even losing, people I cared about. I didn't lose anyone, but gained a precedent of honesty and trust in my relationships.

So, since then, I've realized that being honest with myself involves seeing myself as a very multi-faceted individual. I don't fit into pigeon holes, and I guess I don't fit into a group that can be defined or identified by their clothing or the muic they listen to or what they do for a living. I am a thinking and caring (most of the time) human being, in all of my contradictions - and I pray for the courage to look beyond the labels and treat every person I meet as the same.

3 comments:

Simone said...

One of our favourite labelling stories happened when Rachael moved to Vancouver. Sarah was helping her find an appartment and people assumed they were a couple because they both "had short hair and didn't wear make-up". Luckily they found the humour in the situation too. The other funny label that was applied to our whole group of friends was "telemarking vegans" - which totally cracked us up. However the serious side is that labels can be hurtful, especially ones you don't give yourself but that are given you arbitrarily by others who don't know anythin about you. "right-wing christian nutbar" or "lazy bureaucrat" may describe some Christians or some bureaucrats but in my experience certainly not all or even most... I guess the thing to keep in mind when tempted to label others is if you are going to use labels don't be surprised if every person in the group doesn't fit the stereotype in some way!! here's to the lefty environmentalist Christians and the workaholic bureaucrats ;-)

Anonymous said...

I like the way you put it Carolyn - that positions are a way for us to make up our minds in advance. It is tough to evaluate each situation separately.

-Paul

el Maggie said...

Sim's comment about "right-wing Christian nut-bars" made me think about one of the worst things about labels and positions - they shut down dialogue. When you set yourself up in one group, and someone else up in another group, then set these groups up in opposition . . . it gets hard to listen.