Labels- imagining a world without them
‘Hi, let me introduce Kerrie, she’s a vegetarian’
‘Hi, this is Jeorge he is autistic’
‘Hi, I am Billy and I am a builder’
We find fitting into categories and labelling ourselves a common and familiar activity. We even accept labels given to us from others within a few minutes of meeting each other.
I often imagine an existence here on earth where we abandon those labels completely. The more deeply I think about this I realise we would all need to ask ourselves these questions before we could simply declare all to others.
‘Who are you?’ ‘What do you do?’ are the typical questions we ask each other in any new social situation. When someone asks me this I often feel like saying I am from star dust, planet earth or, ‘well I do breath and I ‘am’. This is partly because it is what I believe but also because I tire of the usual ‘I do this and you do that’ conversations as if they define us.
Now my life is within the world of the label ‘autism’ Jeorge has been defined within this many times, not only by others but by myself too. As Jeorge’s mum I know he is much more than the definitions of autism. The more I think about autism and what we think we know about ‘it’ the less the word means to me.
Sometimes it is so convenient (lazy) I guess we could say too, to fit us into a tidy little box with a big label on it. People do often say, ‘So, he is autistic; where on the spectrum is he?’ And ‘What is his expertise, most are really good at something aren’t they?’ Although I do find it reassuring when I am asked questions as I can help raise awareness about autism stereotypes. However, I do find myself thinking I have an opportunity here to really show another human being the truth, the reality of Jeorge’s autism from my perspective...I know that if labels were not already a large part of stereotype thinking our conversation opening would have been very different from the tidy box conversation we often do have instead.
I see the use in labels too, when Jeorge was first diagnosed the label was useful. It helped us receive the support needed to ensure he was given the right support within education and health. It helped others see that if Jeorge was having a tough time out and about, if the word autism was used people would generally soften and sympathy and empathy would rise. Which at times was helpful.
As a society over many years we have become so reliant on labels I feel we in turn expect a label to pop up, if we do not see one or hear one we become confused and unable to communicate becoming fearful as we do not understand. We scramble for ideas or views on what we think a person is. All of this I think comes from the familiar behaviour of automatically labelling year after year.
Labels’ help us avoid all manner of questions or having deep insightful conversations. With more time, would we need fewer labels?? I know the Navajo way when greeting another would be to say Aa which translates as open up, these words would be followed by a questions but the initial open up to me, feels so friendly and caring. So has labelling become a time saver or a common ground for us to pinpoint some kind of understanding of each other? I feel it can do this but to a very small extent only. If we become too focused on a label we can get lazy in exploring the label more and more. We can allow ourselves to stop asking questions and discovering who or where the person is coming from, their truth. To really understand another does take time of course. Something we appear to say we have less and less of. To me it feels we have so much to explore about each other currently without adding new labels. They are like a shorthanded version of living..
To get rid of labels would have a knock on effect on many aspects of our lives. How would we know what support to offer a child in school without a label, currently we cannot seem to achieve this. I feel education is conducted in a particular one size fits all framework and therefore extra support is needed for many children.
So it’s a chicken and egg scenario, what comes first, the getting rid of labels or the changing of our current systems so we can all ‘be’ who we are, without being categorised like a food or a piece of clothing. I believe a time ago labels served their purpose, when our knowledge of our own hearts and emotions were unexplored fully. Today we are far more in touch with heart and truth, more tooled up and open enough to see deeply into each other without fear. Now we have had labels for a long time , can we be ready for the next step? I think that by having the labels and experiencing them we can see that there are benefits of this but also the negative effect a label can have on each of us.
Accepting that we are different in all manner of ways, celebrating those differences, having the time to sit and chat and play and be, imagine what we could feel like without the concept of a label, do you find that a freeing or scary concept?
I like the idea of no labels with acceptance of each of our differences very much. It feels like a freer existence...Hopefully time will tell.