Putting Labels on People and the Issue of Stereotyping
Labels have always been very helpful in categorising things, concepts and even people. It has actually played a very important role in the process of our evolution and it seems impossible to live without this kind of categorisation. We group things so as to understand the complex world that we live in; delicious, bitter, good, bad, nice... and many more adjectives are significant in expressing the basic comprehendible qualities of almost everything. But when we label people as Nerd, Slut, Fat, Loner, Druggie or even Genius, we become the favourite objects of intellectuals to shame. So, the question arises, why labelling objects and concepts is fine whereas labelling people is considered bad?
Let me start with the peculiar quality that most of us have- the habit of taking something too far. In case of labelling people too, we have gone a little too far. Nowadays, we all use stereotypes for people and consequently, dehumanise them into a label. Have you not told your friends about the new roommate, who gossips a lot? Have you not judged your blind date for being a fashion disaster? I am sure that each one of us does these kinds of things on a regular basis. It is not a big deal to stereotype people like this but it becomes a problem when we take it on the next level. For instance, meeting a random black person and identifying him/her as a drug dealer when you do not even know the person properly. It will change your behaviour towards him/her and consequently, would make that person feel uncomfortable, or may be insulted. So, when we take this too far, we unknowingly start the process of discrimination. We fail to look at the whole picture and put people in a box that is too small to fit their whole personality. We tend to base our judgements on our previous experiences and try to find similarities between the past and the present experience. We tend to trust our first impression and ignore the conflicting information.
Now, imagine the one thing that you are really insecure about yourself and imagine that people keep focussing on the same insecurity over and over again; putting a label on you and completely ignoring your other good qualities. Even if you are being labelled as a genius, would you not feel the burden of remaining in the same label? Labelling people is bad because it constricts our identity and our personality. We need to understand that our identity is not absolute but fluid. We keep on changing because of our new experiences; therefore, we can be more than just one thing. So, labels can never do justice to anybody’s identity. They are over-simplified. All these factors make labelling a very dangerous deed. Labels can change how a person is treated and they can harm people’s social image. They put people in constraints, which sometimes, give birth to identity crisis, stress and even depression. We should all try to look for the good qualities in people and try to find similarities in each other. This will help us in building friendships and stronger relationships.
People should not only be conscious of what they say and how they judge people, but they should try and be free of these constricting stereotypes themselves. If your friends call you a cleanliness freak, then don’t be defined by that single quality. If the society says that you should not cry being a boy, or if they say that you should not sit with your legs wide open because you are a girl, then don’t let them be the boss of you. Be a little mad, break out of the social constraints, be yourself unapologetically and don’t be afraid to bend the rules for it.