June 29th, 2005

cocked and loaded


left-handed, democrat, artist, wife, writer, military brat, agnostic, club member, geek, alto, blogger, expat, american, mother, moderate, big sister, daughter, ex-girlfriend, leo, anal-retentive, singer, forty-something, pro-choice, overweight, movie snob, reader, speed reader, babyboomer, eldest child, aunt, bossy, sillybutt, english major, girlfriend, friend, editor, college graduate, caucasian, volunteer, short, night owl, designer, earlybird, poet, bilingual, introvert, amerikanska, sister-in-law, intuitive, yankee, diplomat, good cop, INTJ, listener, cousin, female, bachelor of arts, teetotaler, non-smoker, skeptic, generalist, feminist, granddaughter, white, smartass, employee, white-collar professional, busy bee, gameplayer, mail-responsive, literate, taxpayer, daughter-in-law, homo sapiens, caffeine addict, niece, marketing services coordinator, author, packrat, straight arrow, list-maker.

And that's just the short list.

Everyday we are faced with the fact that we are viewed by the labels people assign to us. It's as if they've put label-covered glasses on, instead of rose-colored or shades. Suddenly, we're one-dimensional. Every little fact you learn about me is a label you stick on a me-shaped doll in your mind. Those labels define me, they shape me, they give you something solid to relate to, and they help you define on all your sliding scales of priority, importance and prejudice where I belong in your world-order. They constrict and restrain me to something you KNOW ABOUT ME.

The resistance we feel to changing someone's labels, our pre-conceptions, our pre-judices (Hey prejudice, your etymology is showing!) is one of the strongest forces in the world. The names you're called, the way your parents refer to you in your hearing, the telling little notes on your report card, the organizations you join, the beliefs you share, the doctrines you subscribe to. It's not just you sticking labels on that me-shaped doll in your mind, it's ME sticking labels on the me-shaped doll in MY mind.

Sometimes we have the same labels for me, from different perspectives. Labels I might accept proudly like, for instance, teetotaler, you might find ludicrous or the epitome of boring. That label I'm interpreting as indicative of strength, willpower, decision, moral superiority* might be giving you quite opposite signals.

Experience and familiarity tend to make the labels stick harder, even though often they are acting as blinders. We stick them on, and then don't see around them. They're rarely transparent and they've got SERIOUS adhesive. Think about it. When was the last time you suddenly saw someone in a new light? It might be a postive light or it might be a negative one, but sometimes it's a label falling off.

And perhaps, a new label being pasted in place.

*Just for the record, even though I AM a teetotaler, I get no sense of moral superiority from it...unless you are vomiting or can't remember what happened last night. Then? Well, duh.