Life Without Labels
As humans, we intrinsically rely on history, experience and categorization. We immediately classify new information, with information we’ve received before with similarities. Underneath our active consciousness, our mind is connecting dots from our past experience, to our current experience, labeling things so that we can understand them at a glance. A wonderfully powerful tool when hoarding knowledge, and a woefully disappointing tool when forming human connections. These labels we so heavily rely on directly thwart our connections with others, as well as our connections to ourselves. The question then begs, how can we move forward without these societal labels fogging our view?
Connections With Others
As we rely on past experiences to assess new experiences, we also rely on past interactions when considering new interactions. Constantly scouring the catacombs of our memory archive, searching desperately for a way to “get a read” on the person you are meeting.
Politics, gender, race, career, family lineage, habits, humor, idols… Whatever tidbit of information we can scrape from someone’s surface level, we can store away thinking we understand them deeply. When in reality, these terms should simply be introductory leads.
It’s happened to us all. The easiest example I can pull from myself, is age labeling. Contrary to popular belief, I am 22 years old. (Those who click away at this point simply prove my point). I actively avoid saying my age in certain settings, because I am aware of the immediate assessment that comes along with it. I acknowledge the absolute absurdity of my position at my age. 3 Kids (with 1 on the way in case you didn’t know), and a Career at my age is unique. When people learn of my age, they question my usefulness as a parent, my qualifications, and make their mind up about my assumed responsibility. I like to think there is much more to me than that, and frankly there is so much more to any 22 year old than just being 22.
The same contrary labeling happens when people learn how you voted, how you identify, who your parents are, or jokes you laugh at. We immediately thwart the deep learning possible about each other by assuming one thing means another.
Our Connections to Ourself
It can be very easy to see how damaging these labels can be when we apply them to others. Yet, it’s almost surprising how much weight they can carry in our understanding of ourselves. Growing up, I thought that by existing, I was myself. It wasn’t until I met my wife where I started to look inward and actually inspect who I was past ‘existence’.
The main example I can draw upon for this is my sexual identity. I grew up scratching and clawing at becoming a Man. I was able to learn how constrictive the term ‘Male’ was for my identity. I’ve since adopted ‘Non-Binary’ as my gender, with ‘They’ as my preferred pronoun. Simply removing myself from the label as ‘Male’, or at least distancing myself from it, was incredibly freeing. I was able to fluidly grow from that realization, and have been able to capture a brand new confidence. In a post a while ago, I quoted a picture with “I spent so long trying to be a Man, when I just wanted to be ‘Dad’.” and that summed it up for me.
I’ve certainly grown, but labels are still ever present. I still shy myself away from the ‘labels’ assigned to Non Binary in people’s mind. I tend to conform and describe myself as “Non-Binary Male”, which makes sense and is still freeing for me, but is essentially an acceptance of a pronoun I don’t want. I still have a lot of growth left to do, but the more pressure I relieve from ignoring labels, the more confident I will become in my existence.
A Label Less Life
How do I continue to march ahead without labels, and enjoy the world for the diversity it represents?
The simple answer is that we do not. They may always be present, simply by the way our brains process and connect dots. The most effective defense is constant reminders. Reminders that we exist in so much of a deeper sense than these surface level labels allow. We exist as more than just our thoughts and interpretations. If we accept this, we can continue to charter the course of curiosity and chisel deep connections out of these square, rock-molded societal categories.