Labels Are Uncomfortable

labelsDuring his basketball career Michael Jordan scored many incredible baskets. From high-flying dunks to magical three-point shots at the buzzer his skills have become legendary. This past week in a commercial he made a shot which to me was symbolic in a different way. In the commercial a gentleman is complaining about the label in his shirt, Mr. Jordan reaches over tears it off and throws the label into a soda and it sinks. For the manufacturer the focus is having a shirt with no label. For me the symbol is a society without labels.

I have never seen, although I imagine someone spent money doing one, a study on how many labels can be assigned to one human being. Let’s see, we have skin color, religion, political affiliation, age group, nationality, and sexual orientation just to name some of the more commonly used. Question; what are the mathematical probabilities on placing a single person in the proper mix of just these six groups alone? My bigger question is why? Why do we spend so much time and energy placing labels on people?

The commercial I mentioned at the beginning focuses on the fact that at times the labels put in clothing are annoying.  They can be and often are uncomfortable and in the way. In society labels are not just annoying they build walls. The minute we start placing a person in a certain group we discriminate. We make our differences a significant part of the discussion and begin to build a wall. As if somehow that person or ourselves being in that group is somehow wrong. It is not wrong it is just different. And if you haven’t realized it yet we are all different.

Every baby born today will be unique, every person age 1 today is unique, every person age 2 today is unique, and so on and so on throughout the world. I have two wonderful nephews that are identical twins. If you look at them it is very difficult to tell them apart. At the same time they are very different. Their interests are different,  their strengths and weaknesses are different and I am sure they don’t have all the same beliefs; no one does.

So why do we insist on placing labels on everything? I can already hear some of my friends saying; there is that Liberal Tom writing again. I have some beliefs people would label liberal and some people would label conservative.  I would call them mine. The fact is when each of us is born we are labeled, with our name. It is the only label we should ever need.

In sports a group of people come together and form a team with a focus on winning a championship. They have a team name, but the individuals on the team change fairly often. In business we have a group of people who come together to form a company to make a profit. There is a company name, but the people change often. And in society we have groups of people who come together to form organizations that fight for a common cause.  The organizations have names, and the membership changes often. These entities label themselves with a name. Those names do not however label the individuals involved.

Through technology the world gets smaller everyday. Working together with diverse people and international corporations is important to growth and peace. Labeling individuals and trying to place them in groups is dynamite waiting to explode. It may be good for TV news ratings but it is bad for society.  We certainly have different races, religions, political groups, age groups, nationalities and sexual orientations. And from within those groups we have a mixture of talent, experience, ability, financial strengths and education. Most importantly what we have is people. Unique groups of one.

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