It occurred to me the other day how often I refer to people using labels or titles. It’s not to be nasty or anything; often it’s just purely habitual, something I thoughtlessly say, whether it’s appropriate or not. The problem is that by labelling others, however innocently I may do so, I am essentially categorizing them, taking away any original identity they may have and instead, lumping them in with a general population. Just another faceless, nameless body in a crowd of the same. So I got to thinking about the way we identify ourselves and others, and whether or not putting labels on people is a healthy practice.
At it’s most base level, labels are something we learn at a young age. Instead of calling our parents by name, we (usually) call them mum and dad. Titles with pleasant, comforting connotations that don’t always necessarily apply. Being a mother or a father doesn’t automatically make you a good parent, and there are plenty of parents out there who don’t deserve the title. ‘Mum’ and ‘dad’ are titles that in some ways, are earned. The reason we don’t call our parents by name is because they have earned the respect and authority that comes with their respective titles. It’s a sign that we, their children, acknowledge and appreciate of all the love and wisdom, all the hugs and advice, even the stern lectures and gruff words that are spoken with good intentions. It’s saying to the world, ‘hey, these guys did a damn good job of being amazing people. And also, raising a totally rad kid. Respect.’
In much the same way, we refer to our ‘significant others’ as boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife; whatever. Usually these titles are preempted by the determiner ‘my’. As if that other person belongs to us. Bitch, I don’t belong to anyone! Now that has a bit to do with the fact that I am single (and a lot to do with the fact that I’m not property and can’t be owned) but I have been in relationships before and did use those titles when talking about whoever I was with at the time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these titles, it’s just a way to tell the world that you and another person are exclusive and in some kind of relationship. These days if I talk about anyone I used to be in a relationship with, its with an ‘ex’ in front. Mostly when discussing my exes, if I talk about them at all, the labels are fitting because they’re not a part of my life and are essentially insignificant to me. But where my ex girlfriend is concerned, the ‘ex’ title doesn’t make sense because these days, she is first and foremost my friend. So why do I insist on referring to her as ‘my ex girlfriend’ instead of just ‘my friend’? Maybe it’s my subconscious way of saying ‘I’m not totally incapable of having a relationship, there’s hope for me yet!’. Or maybe I’m just trying to subtly hint that once upon a time, I had the sex. Regardless of why, I really need to get out of the habit. She means more to me than the ‘ex’ label implies and honestly, I could probably do with a few more people to fall under in the friend category anyway!
Which brings me to my next point. Friends. Specifically. best friends. What makes a person deserving of being called your best friend? In my case, it’s a lot of reasons. My best friend is indescribably awesome, basically. But that’s not always necessarily the case. I mean, when I was younger I had a number of ‘best friends’ and I don’t think I really understood what that meant (or was meant to mean at least.) I think of all the so called best friends I had during high school and in hindsight, none of them were really even good friends, much less best friends. So is someone your ‘best friend’ because it’s an obligation? Because you’ve known them the longest, or you grew up together or your parents are friends and it was always just expected that you were going to be close? I mean, I know people who have a different best friend every week, and it makes me think that perhaps the title is not really that important. Or at the very least, to a lot of people, best friends are interchangeable.
On a completely different note, people are also often defined by their chosen social cliques. Indie kids, Goths, scene kids (is that still a thing?), and of course the hipsters who ‘don’t subscribe to a label’ and thus label themselves by default. I often refer to myself as a nerd or a geek and identify as such. But the truth is that there’s way more to me than that, as I’m sure there is for the Goths and the indie kids and the scene kids and the hipsters and every other stereotypical group. By putting those labels on yourself and other people, you might as well just cut out their personality altogether. Unless of course they strive to actually be exactly what their chosen label expects. For some, those labels are their identities and if they’re ok with that, all power to them.
Personally, I use labels and titles to describe people too frequently and far too thoughtlessly. And I rely too heavily on them to talk about others, when I should be focusing on people as individuals. Despite all their shortcomings as a species, I think individual people deserve at least that courtesy from me, if for no other reason than because I would expect it from them.