One of my favorite Metallica songs has a lyric that I’ve really found to be somewhat profound over the years.
You labeled meMetallica, “The Unforgiven”
I’ll label you
These two short lines from the song “Unforgiven” can sum up a lot of stuff within my own life. How I’ve accrued the various labels over my life, particularly from my own parents. Hippy. Dirty. Lazy. Unworthy. And a whole host of others. All because I chose to live my life in my own manner. But I’ve accrued labels from other places as well. Druid. Pagan. Polytheist. Hard worker. Inventive. Quick thinker. Priest. Mentor. Leader. Patient. Troubleshooter. Capable. A lot of people will look at that list and see things that they have labeled me as, as well. Some will look at that list and exclaim: “you’re not that!” The reality of it all is that the labels that get applied are always different from person to person and based on their own focus through the jaundiced lens they see the world through. While I detest some of the labeling that gets applied to me, much of it applies from the perspective it gets adhered to me.
Much like the bumper and back window of your car, we all accrue labels that are applied to us by others. Each bumper sticker describes that label, placed there by someone else. You’d be pissed if someone applied a bumper sticker to your car, which espoused a perspective that you didn’t agree with. You’d rip it off your car as quickly as you could, so that you wouldn’t be seen driving around town with that moniker on your car – tying you to a belief that you didn’t agree with, right?
Just to add a touch of flavor to all of this thought, back when I started my first abortive attempt to a bachelor’s degree, I was driving a two-speed Honda Civic around Shreveport, Louisiana (circa mid-1980s). I had a bumper sticker on that over-qualified golf-cart that had a bumper sticker stating “Recall EWE”. This was the first political bumper sticker I had. It was a reference to an effort to recall then-Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, one of the most corrupt politicians in Louisiana. One morning, I parked my car in one of the student lots on campus and came back to my bumper sticker having been removed from my bumper. Apparently, one of Edwards’ ardent fans took exception and remove my bumper sticker from my car. At first I was pissed off over the entire thing, having a feeling of being violated over my rights to free speech. Over time, I realized that it was a childish response by someone else to what I had been espousing. Instead of feeling anger, I felt pity for the individual who had done such an act – they were triggered by a simple label that said something diametrically in opposition to something they believed in. It took me a long time to get to that perspective.
See, I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to being labeled as this or that by others. The labels sting and are hurtful. Our society teaches us to label things we wish to mock. Democrats become DemonRats. Republicans become Repugnicans. Cute twists in wording but meant to denigrate a group of people that we disagree with. During the height of the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south in America, blacks were referred to as “monkeys” or “apes” among other monikers. The labels were meant to denigrate and be harmful. There was no positivity associated with it. More recently, the Witches among the Pagan community have started to reach back for the term ‘Witch” – removing it from a denigrating perspective (such as “A Witch with a capital B”) to something that they hold as a positive label. Something that expresses the positivity of their Path.
Many labels that we have are hard to shake, for whatever reason. Not all can be claimed or should be wanted to be reclaimed. For those, I can only suggest that one does their best to ignore monikers hurled as insults, and calmly and quietly reject those that are incorrectly applied. I’ve gone through this constantly with the term “Priest”. In the not-so-distant Past I have bristled over its application to me. I still don’t feel as if it is an accurate description of who I am on the Path I follow. I’ve learned to be more gentle over pushing it away from myself. In some cases, I’ve learned that its just easier to accept its application, rather than turning my rejection of it into an unintentional contentious battle, typically rounded over the difference in opinion of its definition.
Further complicating the entire label/terminology/definition point has been the recent loud addition to the conservative culture war over the identification of transgender individuals. “Define a woman” was a rallying cry by conservatives during the recent Supreme Court nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. For me, its an easy situation…if you identify as a woman, you’re a woman. If you identify as a man, you’re a man. If you identify as being non-gender, that’s who you are. Period. However, conservatives prefer to identify people by their genetics, and then assign laws to place that labeling on those who do not identify the way that they (conservatives) prefer.
Labeling happens everywhere in our history and culture. We (as a collective society) prefer to have everyone labeled and placed into convenient descriptive boxes. That way, quick assumptions of people can be made. If you identify as a Democrat, you’re a socialist out to destroy American values and turn this country into a Socialist graveyard. If you’re a Republican, you’re a political thug that wants to subvert the Constitution and send this country back to the 1950s with backward and outdated social norms. If you’re an American, you want to create countries around the world that are subverted to American control and utilized in a slavish manner to prop up American capitalism as a means of identifying your culture as rich and dominant throughout the world. There are all kinds of terms that are utilized to quickly identify these piles of people.
How do you stop it? How do you stop labeling people? Well, it takes more than just me and you to change things. It will take a major paradigm shift to change the way we all see one another. It will take a lot to get people to see a different way of enumerating the people we are around. It means seeing people for what they are – human beings – instead of what they believe or what we believe of them. It will take a shifting of the way we try to view others that don’t agree with us in a denigrating fashion…eventually seeing one another as equal to all of us, regardless of their opinions. And where we are at this point in our world-wide culture, how integrated this superior/inferior perspective is ingrained in all of us…a handful of people are not going to change this very much. To quote the fictional character Kosh from the tv series Babylon 5:
The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.
I can still hope though. I can still stand my ground on this entire structure of labels. Even if it is too late for this pebble to vote. I still remain the labels that I chose to define myself over – I’m a Pagan. I’m a Druid. I’m a Polytheist. I’m a programmer. I’m a troubleshooter. I’m alive.