Should we use labels?

 

‘Don’t restrain me.’

‘Labels are limiting.’

‘We shouldn’t put people in boxes.’

‘Everything is fluid.’

‘Categorizing someone stops them reaching their full potential.’

We don’t like labels. Talk to anyone who is in tune with the 21st century about political correctness and common courtesy and phrases like the above will arise.

Yet it has been blatantly obvious from the very beginning that I have fixed a very firm label on myself and others on this blog. It is even in the title!

Watchers – those in a close relationship with chronically suffering people

Wider Watchers – those who are not in a close relationship with chronic sufferers

Loved Ones – the chronic sufferers themselves

label-important_

There are always hidden fires

Why have I done this? To be perfectly simple, I wouldn’t be able to write without them. I need to have these definitions in order to muse and blog and think about our specific situation.

First things first, let’s clear the waters and accept the inevitable truth: Labels (inadvertently or otherwise) do place limits. People should never be defined by their ‘label’. No single title or phrase is ever going to be a completely accurate description of an individual. Even a combination of labels is going to fall short. We are complex beings. We do not completely understand ourselves, so how can we expect others to? In the words of John Watson (Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir A. C. Doyle), there are “hidden fires indeed!” in each of our souls.

And yet, labels are helpful.

Labels help us think.

Labels help us see and understand our reality. By using the term ‘Watcher’ and its definition, we are able to appreciate (possibly for the first time) the uniqueness of our position. We can embrace its joys and its sorrows. Labels turn something that was a vague, formless reality, little thought about, into a solid actuality. They define and validate. We can think about, question and argue against a label – we cannot do anything if it doesn’t exist. Labels arouse awareness in ourselves.

Labels help us talk

Secondly, without labels we cannot verbalize our experience. A label is a word used to define a situation or person – and without words how can we communicate? Labels allow us to share what we are experiencing – with fellow Watchers, with Wider Watchers, with ourselves. It is difficult enough to voice what we feel, to understand it enough to outline it to others – it is impossible to do so without a carefully chosen label. Without a label it’s too easy to use too many words, confusing the listener and ourselves as we try and define our reality.

Labels can become meaningless

Labels give us confidence to understand ourselves and communicate this knowledge to others. This is good. Yet the more we talk about something, the more we box it and dissect it, the more distant it becomes. This is the danger of labels. If we don’t use them carefully and thoughtfully, labels begin to become meaningless. They give us a false sense of security, we feel ‘we understand ourselves’, and perpetrate the myth that our experience is controllable. It is not. We are not God – and thus we need to learn to depend on Him, and not our neat and tidy labels.

Labels are invaluable, but they are only tools. And like all tools, when they cease to be useful they ought to be discarded. A mis-used label can hurt and wound. Some times and places lend themselves to the use of labels (ie. This blog) and others do not (a conversation with your Loved One at a coffee shop).

Let us use our labels as we ought to use all our words – wisely and with prayer, that good might result.

“No one exceeds their potential… (if they do) it means we did not accurately gauge their potential in the first place.” – Gattaca, 1997

// Do you use labels? Do you find them helpful or restrictive? What about the use of labels on this blog? Is it helpful?

Come join the discussion and comment below!

no-word-or

 

Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

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