"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What Label Today?

By Micky Wolf

Boomer. Gen-X’r. Millennial. Conservative. Liberal. Perfectionist. Sloppy. Fat. Skinny.

Yuck. Yes, yuck. But I get ahead of myself.

Maybe the best case scenario for justifying the use of naming and labeling categories or sub-groups of people is for targeting a specific audience to sell a certain product, or to obtain information of one sort or another. Fine. I understand that kind of thinking and in some ways, it isn’t new to the twenty-first century. But I believe there is a limit to what might be considered the positive aspects of choosing to label someone, especially when it is mostly based on age, gender, income, race, sexual orientation, and so forth.

The ever expanding and invasive business of naming and labeling seems to have infiltrated our national and individual psyches to the point we can hardly speak or write a sentence without using certain ‘label’ words. As a result, it seems we are at risk, more than ever, of over-looking the meaning and value of the whole of who we are as human beings.

When a label is a good thing—or not…

A label is good when it directs the shopper to a certain item in the grocery aisle or department store.

A label is good when it marks which restroom is for females or males.

A label is good when it indicates which entrees on the menu are low fat or heart-healthy.

A label is good when noted on a ballot to designate party affiliation or a tax issue.

A label is good when it names threatening weather or dangerous traveling conditions.

Or not:

Labels are not good when combined with voice inflections that are demeaning to the hearer.

Labels are not good when used to segregate people from one other another because of personal prejudice or favoritism.

Labels are not good when to do so is primarily for the purpose of either diminishing or exalting certain ideas or suggestions because they don’t fit into an established box or preconceived notion of what will, or will not work.

Labels are not good when used as short-cut ways of sharing information between those who know something, and those who are in the process of learning.

Labels are not good when directed as judgment of others or self in ways that tear down rather than build-up.

Better than a label…

It goes without saying we need to name and identify certain aspects of our daily life, if for no other reason than to minimize chaos and confusion, or for purposes related to avoiding danger.

However, what if we more clearly understood that inconsiderate or careless use of labels is more hurtful than helpful? And what if we could see, from a larger perspective, that the way we use them often speaks volumes about our own hearts—and not in a way that provides a loving witness to others of the God we say we desire to love, follow, and serve?

Many of us can recall a parent or grandmother reminding us that “if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” There’s no doubt some days it is a real challenge to follow through with this bit of wisdom, given what is going on in the world. And the availability of such an array of labels certainly doesn’t make the process any easier. On the other hand, if Paul of Tarsus could exhort his companions to let go of the dung, rubbish, and garbage with regard to becoming more Christ-like—without making it critically personal or degrading—why can’t we? Or, if Jesus was able to address the Pharisees and point out their hypocritical attitudes—with love and compassion by strongly suggesting they first clean the inside of the cup—why can’t we?

Love. It is, all about love.

If we really want to live as God created us to, everything begins and ends with being aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions as being grounded in Divine Love. When all that we are, and all that we do, is motivated from a heart desire that reflects the One who first loved us into existence, we are much less likely to label, name, or identify others behaviors or actions (and our own for that matter) in ways that are demeaning, critical, or judgmental.

To love one another as God loves each of us will provide us with many challenges and opportunities throughout the days and years of our lives. Nevertheless, we can see these challenges as invitations to appreciate and embrace what makes each of us unique and different from the other and become more loving, or we can wave off the people—and the circumstances—as bothersome intrusions on our way of thinking, feeling, and taking action.

In God’s economy there is only one label that is truly meaningful—Love—and by any other name, Jesus.

Do I use labels as a way to accept/reject things or people? Why?

How do I feel when someone refers to me using a label?

What label-lingo could I let go of?

What might God want to teach me about loving rather labeling?


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