Being Afraid of Labels

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When we say that we don’t like to label ourselves, what we’re really saying is that we’re afraid to commit.  When we label ourselves, we’re taking a stand. It’s much easier to say, “I believe in women’s rights and equality between the sexes, but I’m not a feminist,” “I believe in God, but I’m not a Christian/Jew/Muslim,” “I don’t believe in belonging to any one political party,” “I consider myself to be a moderate.” To align ourselves with one specific side is to make ourselves accountable for our beliefs.

Sometimes it’s better to sit on the fence, at least for a time. We should be slow to judge others, for instance. We should be mature enough to see that life is not black or white, but shades of gray. What is good for one person might not be good for another. We should be willing to listen to the opinions of others. Tolerance is a virtue. But at some point we have to choose sides. We’re either for or against the death penalty, war, abortion, birth control, homosexual rights, affirmative action, etc. Refusing to take a stance comes from cowardice and intellectual laziness. We’re afraid of what others think of us. We don’t like having to think for ourselves.

It’s human nature to sort people into categories. But when the labels don’t fit–when they are based on prejudices and presuppositions–they need to be revealed for the frauds that they are. The only way we can fight unfair labels others put on us is to know ourselves fully and not be afraid to defend our positions. We can be proud of our labels as long as we thoughtfully give them to ourselves.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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