Chicquita and Dole are the stickers I find most often on bananas. Bananas are found in the produce section of the grocery store. I often wonder how they get to Georgia via Panama without turning black in the process, but once they make it home with me, they are going to turn spotted and brown. Unless you are me, you are quickly going to find the banana inedible. For us, that banana peel becomes compost, soil, and starts the cycle over again. When someone says banana, though, what we picture is a curved yellow exterior peel. Rarely do we picture the white fruit inside, the green peel as it grows on the trees, the browning outside and in as it decays. They are all banana, but saying banana doesn’t do the banana justice. We casually and carelessly wear labels we are not conscious of. And like a grocery store clerk with a price gun, we label everything and everyone around us.
Our brains naturally categorize everything we see and feel and think. This is food. That is a coffee mug. Pens go in this drawer. We do this with people automatically. Black, white, Asian, Australian albino. Liberal, conservative, libertarian, egalitarian, socialist, Marxist, anarchist.
Like the Sorting hat, once our brains have sorted we think, “That’s that!” Slytherin! Well obviously you are a terrible person who only thinks of personal gain. Gryffindor! Brave and loyal and true. Hufflepuff! Awkward and studious, unnoticed, unimportant. Ravenclaw! So smart and intellectual.
But take those heroes of Gryffindor and they couldn’t be more different. Harry chose to be Gryffindor, but might have been better suited to Slytherin. Hermione might have been better suited to Ravenclaw. Neville might have been Hufflepuff. They chose to wear the label of Gryffindor.
Once they’re sorted it makes it easier for the brain to relax and not see their differences.
Sometimes we wear these labels proudly. Proud to be an American! Doctor! Farmer! Hunter! Sometimes we use labels to denigrate. Libtard! SJW! Millenial! Our brains instinctively accept labels and classifications. It makes life easier to see the world in black and white. Survival is hard-wired into our own sorting system and really what we are doing is protecting ourselves from views, opinions and people we think are bad or keeping at arms length things we think are dangerous to understand. The truth is that we are more than our labels, and that in order to build better communities we need to try and see deeper than the labels we wear and that we give other people.
How strongly we identify with a label doesn’t come from any strict code we adhere to, but as the result of a deeply personal experience or loyalty to a community or by following someone we admire.
When someone talks about standing for family values I always wonder what that is code for. Do you mean family values that just mean marriage between a man and a woman? Do you mean anti-abortion? Do you mean women should submit to their husbands? We use labels that mean different things to different people and assuming our meaning is the only meaning is cause for confusion and conflict.
There are some people who will hear that label of family values and they will automatically feel comforted and believe it applies to their own family values without understanding that different families have different values. One thing we can say with some degree of certainty about family values, is that people who have family values value their families. Beyond that, ascribing any certain moral code, behavior or configuration to the term family values cannot help but be divisive. Oh, I see you care about your family, but it sounds like you don’t care about mine and would like to see mine disappear from the face of the earth. A label can divide as easily as unite.
The media or the liberal media is another label we use too often. Does that include CNN? NBC? 60 Minutes? NYT? WaPO? The Guardian? The label is used mainly negatively as if the press were a single organism bent on the destruction of the world. There are thousands of individual reporters, editors, owners and so forth within THE MEDIA (dun, dun, dun!). It is a safe and uncomplicated way of viewing our news outlets. The problem being that when we allow that negative and generalizing label to take hold we are guided toward a more narrow view seeking the one outlet of “truth” as if there is no bias. The best we can do with news is to use the internet to view multiple outlets and consider stories from different angles and points of view. The worst we can do is to seek a single source that continually validates our own biases.
Speaking of truth, let’s talk about fact, opinion, truth and lies. I hear a lot being reported or argued about “blatant lies” or “he’s a liar” and again this is another comfortable label that can obscure a better understanding. I believe it is better to identify the questionable information before labeling the person or at least identify the evidence for the label alongside it.
Instead of “he is a liar” you can say “he said X which is incorrect according to Y evidence” and for emphasis with something pathological say “this is in addition to A, B, C” which supports a pattern of lying. The audience can determine from evidence what label they want to use and at least the label you want to assign someone has a contextual foundation. The inaccuracies in news reporting come from a desire to get the “scoop.” There is a rush to report in the daily papers. There is a sensationalism driven by a need for ratings in the 24-hour news channels. Anyone who believes this is a relatively new phenomena should spend some time going through news throughout history. Yellow journalism has been around for quite some time.
The great thing about the “Information Age” is how many different sources we can find for a single subject. A critical thinker can read about an issue or an event from many different perspectives. We are more than our labels. The issues of our times demand a deeper and more complex understanding than our politicians and leaders can express in a sound byte. As a country, for our communities, for our world, we must be able to look beyond our surface impressions and easy judgments to gain better knowledge and to build a better world.
Credit: iHeart Organizing for the pic