Why do we Label Others?

We all get taken in by false labels. At one time or another we’ve all picked up a magazine at the check-out counter based on the cover photo and headlines – Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days! Throw a Halloween Party that will Leave Everyone Cackling with Delight! – and we’ve all been disappointed when the article didn’t live up to its headline.

Labels are quick, convenient and designed to grab attention and trigger action, bypassing critical analysis or conscious thought. Buy Now! Limited Quantities! Don’t Delay! Whether we label merchandise, groups or individuals, labels serve the same function; the ability to quickly sort information without a lot – or any – conscious thought or critical analysis.

The Benefits and Dangers of Labeling People

Police, fire, medical and military personnel all wear uniforms so we can quickly identity the roles they play. In dangerous or life threatening situations it is imperative to move quickly without having to think and analyze multiple pieces of information.

Imagine a catastrophic situation where none of the emergency personnel are dressed in uniform, and how confusing it would be not knowing who served which function. On a societal level it’s good to collectively know and honor certain labels and stereotypes. Emergency personnel are good people who help us in emergencies and it’s in our best interest to collectively defer to their authority, ensuring safety for all.

But there’s a dark side to labels as well, one that causes us to warp and twist facts in order support the label, instead of critically analyzing the facts and changing the labels when the facts no longer support the label. This behavior traps us in a world of self-created beliefs, devoid of consciousness or truth. We no longer think, analyze or reason. We become unconscious and when we are unconscious we become passive players in our own world.

The Negative Effects of Relying on Labels

Being knee-deep in an election season, I recently realized how much the labels of Republican and Democrat impacted my view of the candidates and how unconscious I had become as a result.
As a former lawyer, my method of analysis consisted of knowing the law, knowing the facts, applying the facts to the law in order to reach my conclusion.

In the political realm, this meant knowing the Republican and the Democratic Party Platforms, knowing the facts about each candidate and applying those facts to the party platforms. Of course, this presupposed that I myself fell squarely within one of the party platforms. After reading all 35,467 words of the current Republican platform and all 26,058 words of the current Democratic platform, I confirmed that I was mostly a Democrat, but not 100% so.

It became apparent to me that I was not the only one who had been unconscious and confused by the parties’ labels. The candidates and party leaders themselves didn’t consistently act within the bounds of their own party, nor did the behavior of the general public, claiming to be aligned with a certain party or candidate, reflect their own parties’ philosophy.

My attempt to critically analyzing each candidate devoid of their label made me realize that our political labels were useless at best and misleading at worst, dragging us all into a state of unconscious passivity as a result. It was so much simpler to remain unconscious, seek out information that supported my preconceived notions about the candidates, slap on labels, vote a straight party ticket and call it good.

How to Remain Conscious Despite Labels

The best way I found to neutralize the impact of labels and keep myself conscious was to assign each candidate the opposite label of what they wore. When I labeled Hillary as the Republican, I found myself characterizing her experience as binding her to the status quo. When I labeled Trump as a Democrat, I found myself excusing his comments as being done for entertainment value only, and not being quite as concerned as I had been about his temperament.

Having studied both parties’ platforms and analyzing the facts about each candidate with both a red lens as well as a blue lens, I feel like I’m politically conscious and awake for the first time in my life. I know that the candidate I’m voting for is the one who truly reflects my values, beliefs and priorities, regardless of the label or the party to which she’s been assigned.

Perhaps it’s time we all woke up, before it’s too late.

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