Language is the most powerful tool Humanity has. As a species we’ve built thousands of miles worth of roads linking cities and nations together, constructed massive hydroelectric dams capable of generating power for millions of people, and assembled liquid fueled rockets as tall as skyscrapers that have carried astronauts to the Moon and back.
All impressive feats, but when it comes to uniting people from all over the world, nothing compares to the raw power of language: the simple arrangement of letters into words, words into sentences, and sentences into ideas. From America’s Declaration of Independence to the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, words and languages - in all their glorious manifestations - possess a lasting capacity whose scope reigns supreme and unchallenged.
And while the wonders of language help direct us through a bustling airport so that we can find our departure gate, and even occupies our minds with a newspaper or a book while waiting to board the plane, words are also used to label every object around us: the chair we’re sitting on, the smartphone we’re nervously fidgeting with, or the cup of coffee on the ground next to our piece of carry-on luggage. Naming objects is a convenient way of telling things apart from one another, but this same practice of attaching labels can also prove troublesome and even potentially harmful in other situations.
Essentially what labeling does is it separates items into categories - something we humans love to do - which seems harmless at first glance, but once something, or someone, has been lumped into a specific category, it’s very difficult to convince ourselves that the existing label is either ultimately inaccurate, misleading, or better yet, deserves to be abandoned altogether. Labels are also a convenient ‘shortcut’ to having to think seriously about a particular person, race, concept, or social issue. Seriously, do I even need to point out how incredibly reckless that is? Consider some of the most common labels that many of us probably lean on more often than we’d like to admit:
It’s one thing to label a motorized vehicle with four wheels and enough interior space for passengers a car, but it’s another thing to refer to a teenager struggling with school as lazy, incompetent, or dumb. That’s one of the essential dangers labels impose upon the unconscious mind: they try to break things into simplified terms for easier arrangement. Of course Life, in all its fathomless complexity, can almost never be broken down into tidy categories.
Think about how inaccurate it is to simplify a human Life by attaching a label that’s as superficial or ultimately meaningless as gay, black, or Syrian. Can those words ever encapsulate the depth and value of another person? Of course they can’t. Yet in spite of this obvious truth, many people - myself included at times - continue to affix these kinds of labels to others as if they somehow defined them . . . which they don’t.
Labels like these not only blind us to the deeper truths about our world, they act like a mentally-imposed cement, locking a particular person, ethnic group, species of animal, social concept, or artistic creation in place forever . . . or at least until each of us starts abandoning these kinds of poisonous labels from not only our everyday language, but from even entering our minds to begin with.
Dumping the whole practice of labeling is about looking beyond their obvious limitations so that we can glimpse a more vast and ultimately unnameable essence inherent within all things and beings. As Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said: “Once you label me, you negate me.” And whatever you do to another, you essentially do to yourself.
True, labels are just letters configured into words that are then attached to things . . . but in the hands of someone who’s hopelessly unconscious of their ultimate power and influence - like, say Donald Trump - labels are frequently used as weapons designed to keep us divided from one another. Division breeds distrust which eventually leads to chaos. Getting caught-up in the whole labeling thing isn’t an easy thing to undo, but it’s well worth the effort to keep them at bay as much as possible.
Instead of making more labels, try making art instead. Or what about making peace? Or better still, make love. Now that’s something the world needs more of than anything else.
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