Defined Words: label, stereotype
“You’re not like other ______, you’re different.” You have probably been told this where the blank is some label that has been attached to you. A label is nothing more than a word that has been synapsed to a trait of something.
Labels, especially extreme ones, can easily lead to stereotypes. A stereotype links a specific trait to all people who fall under the same label. For example, it’s common to think that all women cannot drive or black people are all “thugs” because a few individuals have caused the synapse to form. Bad driving is stereotypically attributed to being a woman simply because a few bad drivers happened to be women. Since half of all people are women and there are many bad drivers, the stereotype will only be reinforced.
Labels can be helpful to describe a category but they can easily define the category as well. To further explain, let’s look at a label from a top-down and bottom-up perspective. We’ll use “dumb” as our label in this example.
If you do something without thinking and it doesn’t go well, you might think of that choice as “dumb.” We’ve all made dumb choices, it’s a part of living. The label can describe the choice to help you learn from it to avoid “dumb” choices in the future. This is a bottom-up perspective that sees you as a person who happened to make a choice that can be described as dumb.
However, if you make a dumb choice and someone calls you a “dumb” person, this is a top-down way of looking at the label. To have a label attached to you as a person meaning that the label defines you and all of your choices, not just the “dumb” one. A top-down perspective can be harmful here because a single occurrence can cause a permanent label. We will synapse the label to our own character and use it as a crutch to make more dumb decisions.
Labels are inherently inclusive and exclusive, meaning everything that describes you does so because it doesn’t describe something else. You are a human, that label cannot be given to a tree. Likewise, the label “black” cannot be given to a person with white skin. The label helps to clarify which category you are describing but it separates the categories as well. We all belong to a single family that has diversified over millions of years into different species and races.
The labeling of categories is helpful to learn about the diversity of our world. However, many labels were created before we understood the whole story. When you understand that we all came from the same thing, you can better understand how your specific story caused all the differences between you and those around you.
“You’re not like other ______, you’re different.” Of course you are different; you have a unique set of DNA and experiences that make you unlike any other person that has ever existed. Labels can help to describe yourself or to find comfort in a group that identifies as the same, but you must remember to not let them define you. You do not fit into any single category, nor would you want to. Always be the exception and you will discover who you truly are.