Have you ever been labeled? Did you want to scream, “That’s not who I am!”? That’s the problem with labels. They don’t tell the whole truth. Sometimes they don’t tell the truth at all.
Recently I heard about a label someone attached to Seneca Creek. “That’s a __________ church.” I chafed (fumed, actually), knowing that the person who used the label was ignorant about its meaning, but worse, was ignorant about Seneca Creek! I won’t share the label, because I don’t want to spread lies.
But it reminded me that we are all tempted to use labels. We use them for people who think differently, act differently, dress differently, speak differently, vote differently, and look differently than us. One of the most frustrating aspects of our current national discourse is the use of labels. Racist. White supremacist. Anarchist. Revisionist. Nationalist. Immigrant. (the list is endless)
Here’s my question: Has the use of labels ever brought people together? Has it ever advanced the conversation? Has it ever deepened our understanding of one another? Has it ever provided a way forward in a divided nation or community? No it has not. Labels are impotent at best and destructive at worst.
What HAS helped, however, is setting aside labels and sitting down to listen and learn. It IS possible to learn from people you disagree with. And along the way it’s possible THEY will learn from you.
So here’s my challenge. Find someone who you’re tempted to label, and invite them to sit down for coffee (or whatever your beverage of choice is). Then ask them how they came to hold the views and opinions and beliefs about which you disagree. And listen. And learn.
When I’ve done this, here’s what I’ve learned.
- You might find out that you have more in common than you thought.
- You might find a next step forward in resolving differences.
- You might find a way to respectfully disagree without demonizing the other.
- But what you WILL find for sure is that the label you were tempted to use is simply not going to be sufficient.
Because labels lie. And that’s something worth learning. Over and over.