I have a concern about labels. Not the kind on food, etc, but the kind we take on ourselves and place on other people. 

There are some labels that are pretty concrete – mother, wife, son/daughter, Hispanic – though these can have some variation – step-mother, Mexican-American, etc. These aren’t the ones I have a problem with. 

Then there are professional labels – chef, doctor, teacher, maintenance worker. These shape us to a certain extent. Chefs learn about food stuff, doctors read medical journals. This is a good thing, but can also have some drawbacks – as when, say, a cardiologist is so focused on cardiac problems that he can’t see that there is a kidney problem. Or when an oncologist is so focused on curing the cancer that he doesn’t treat the whole patient. Some seem to forget that ignoring nutrition is a little like changing a tire on a car whose engine isn’t running. 

Then there are labels we put on ourselves. These can make us part of a community or group. But they can also control us to a certain extent. When we adopt a label, we look to reinforce our beliefs, so we get our information from sources that do just that – that reinforce our beliefs. I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong, but it can be very dangerous. If we only get info from our favored sources, we can easily be misled. We don’t know if we’re being lied to or not. Unfortunately, social media’s algorithms played into this big-time last year.

Then there are the labels we put on others. There are good labels – neighbor, friend. But then there are negative labels. They are a form of judgment and they destroy relationship, destroy unity. As an example, when we label ‘rioters’ or ‘migrants’, it’s easy to dismiss them, blame them, even hate them. If we look at them as people who are so upset that they are destroying their communities or leaving everything they know and love, we are more likely to ask, “Why? Why would they do that?” 

If we want to be the United States, we must have unity. The U.S. motto is “Out of many, one” (aka e pluribus unum). If we truly want unity, we have to stop labeling others – red, blue, liberal, conservative, right, wrong, whatever – and start listening. Listening is the only way to build relationships – and labels get in the way of that. When we label and judge others, they are not safe – and we are not safe. In “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Dr. Stephen Covey, Habit 5 is: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (I’m guilty of this – especially with my husband.)

God hit me upside the head one night with a question: Are you committed to your beliefs – even if they are based on untruth?

Or are you committed to the truth, no matter how badly it shakes your fondest beliefs?

If we are actually seeking the truth – seeking first to understand another person, seeking to do unto others as we would have them do unto us – it’s a lot harder to judge and label someone else.