Putting Labels In Their Proper Place


It's comforting, isn't it? It's comforting to know that when you walk into a CD Tradepost and ask the local vendor where the Neo-Death-Industrial-Metal Section is in the music, she can take you to the exact spot and you can find your favorite band, Necro PileDriver. It's nice to know you can go to the horror movie section and see the latest movie crapped out by hollywood about a 110 pound teenage girl that defeats a 10,000 year old demon in PG-13 form.

Being able to dinstinguish some things from other things is pretty cool. Being able to categorize certain obejcts in our experience using just a word or two is pretty useful. In fact, without this ability, it's pretty hard to see the human race surviving for very long. The ability to categorize and label is a tool of the human understanding.

The ability of attaching an entire viewpoint around a certain word or idea is connected to the study of heuristics.
In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules, hard-coded by evolutionary processes or learned, which have been proposed to explain how people make decisions, come to judgments, and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. ~Wikipedia.org
In terms of labeling, a good heuristic gives us a good idea with what we are dealing with in any given situation. If you ask me my favorite kind of music and I tell you Classical Rock, whatever idea you have attached to those words comes up in your mind and you have a grasp on the situation.

The ability to cluster large amounts of information together in a couple of words is a very useful idea. In fact, this extreme efficiency is what most likely gave rise to the ability. It saves our minds both time and energy in any situation. We are able to grasp very complex ideas through relating it to other similar ideas we may have had.

So, once again, this ability is a very useful tool. Like other tools, though, it can be sometimes be used wrongly. This great ability, when taken too far and used in the wrong situation, can only hinder a person's growth. This occurs most notably in relationships.

We have certain ideas attached to certain labels that we attempt to use in order to really know someone. This can be seen flourishing in politics. Once we know whether or not someone is Democrat or Republican we think we can deal with them however we want. This can get us into deep trouble though. Remember, our heuristics we have allow for extreme efficiency in understanding our situation. In this way, though, we have a tendency to shut ourselves off to further incoming information. We believe we have a grasp on the situation and keep that perspective.

It's easy to see how this can be bad for our relationships. By attempting to label someone, we have good intentions; we only wish to know more about the person. But by labeling the person, we are not really attempting to know the person for who they are, we only hold on to some idea of what we think them to be. The worst part is, is that we leave it at that. We've already decided whether or not we like them, how we are going to treat them, all because of some notion we think we have.

This may be useful for everyday encounters with people we may not know too well, but it only spells doom for a relationship you wish to be wholesome. Attempting to know our close friends in this way will only cause us to come to certain assumptions about who we think the person is, and this creates false expectations, and expectations in relationships leads to trouble.

Overall, then, a person should seek to release their use of labels in relationships they wish to be wholesome. Knowing the person for who they truly are takes an open mind, and by trying to take an easy, efficient route, we close ourself off from the true individual.

Mitchell Sahlfeld

2 Responses to "Putting Labels In Their Proper Place"

Nathan Zimmerman Says :
April 1, 2009 at 8:51 PM

I like the sentiment, though I disagree with the message. I don't think we can get away from labels, if by labels you mean judgments of people as instantiating this or that property.
Rather, I think our task is to find the most adequate labels for our tasks, to come to agreement on labels, and to apply labels fairly and with the proper degree of thoughtfulness. This all requires a critical consciousness of what we are doing at each and every step, which can be tiring, but it is the best we've got.

We can't escape from the tree of knowledge, but we can sure as hell chop off the branches we don't like (so long as we realize we're always already on a branch) and attempt to foster the growth of new branches.

Mitchell Sahlfeld Says :
April 3, 2009 at 9:58 AM

The point of the article was not necessarily to get away from labels, only put them "in their proper place." It is to avoid overuse of these labels.

By labels, in this particular article, the word is meant to describe descriptions of people that don't really "pin a person down" so to speak. They are merely summarizations or wholistic pictures of the person and do not desribe the complexities of that person.

If I tell you that I am of a certain belief system, it may tell you something about the whole of my beliefs, but it fails to describe the details. An attempt at a wholesome relationship should attempt to get rid of this tendency; that being the tendency to assume a label is a complete description of a person and how they think.

I agree with you on the fact that this is a tiring pursuit. It requires work, which is why simple labels which merely try to describe someone holistically fail, because they are unable to capture the intricacies(sp?) of a person.

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